The musical is a setting of Melvyn Bragg’s story of turn-of-the-century everyday rural Cumbrian life to a richly lyrical score inspired by Kurt Weill, but primarily influenced by English choral and folk music. Based on events that happened to Bragg’s grandfather, the plot revolves around farmhand John Tallentine, his wife Emily and their family during a period of considerable social and economic upheaval as agriculture declines, pit mining advances and the shadow of the First World War threatens everything and everyone.
The Landor Theatre’s production of The Hired Man has just won an Off West End Award for best musical production.
Praise for The Hired Man
‘I could count on one hand the number of times I have left a theatre wanting urgently to own the score of the musical I have just seen. The Hired Man would be assigned one of my digits and the recording I have owned for a few years now has always been sure of a place on my iPod.’
Sandra Giorgetti:The British Theatre Guide.
‘It is still, hands-down, the best-scored British musical to have opened in the intervening 27 years [since its first production], and the most distinctively English of any. (When I appeared on Elaine Paige’s radio show a few years ago to choose my “essential musicals” - i.e. my favourite shows — it was one of my five!). I therefore follow it religiously. I’ve seen it over the years not once but twice in New York (both in an off-Broadway premiere in a tiny theatre on West 42nd Street and then again when a UK touring production from New Perspectives Company turned up at 59E59 Street Theatre as part of its annual Brits Off-Broadway season), and regionally in Salisbury in 2003, when one of Goodall’s most scorchingly beautiful of all songs ‘Day Follows Day’ was added to the score.
The musical ambitions of the piece leave me in awe of Goodall's youthful skill - he composed The Hired Man aged 26 - and in Andrew Keates' production the big voiced ensemble sweep you away on Goodall's plush melodic waves. This is unashamedly emotional stuff and the rousing score is as much to blame for the lumps in the throat and the tears as the heart-tugging story.’
Mark Shenton The Stage
‘It could be that Howard Goodall will never write another piece as good as The Hired Man but I for one hope that he will keep trying. His Cumbrian musical…is without question one of the great British models of the genre..[A]sk me why this piece is so important in the chronicle of British musicals and the answer is simple and unequivocal: this is a piece where the musical language (and though I applaud the directness of the book and lyrics, it is Goodall’s score that gives it its very particular tinta) is inseparable from the vernacular of the setting and subject and characters. Its muscularity springs from “the land”, if you like, from the rough spontaneity of regional folk music and its form (taut and cogent) from the great English choral tradition. What makes it so eminently performable – in amateur and professional circles alike – is that the songs rely so totally on honesty. Goodall’s rangy vocal lines make it impossible to over-beautify them – they have to be sung on the feeling and the emotion..’
Edward Seckerson The Independent