If there is one thing to be said for the National Youth Music Theatre, it’s that the small but mighty cast certainly know how to put on a show. And their latest production of The Hired Man at St. James Theatre is a fine showcase for emerging talent.
Following an adaptation from Melvyn Bragg’s novel of the same name, the musical has been scarcely performed in the thirty years since it was written. Following the Tallentire family from before the turn of the twentieth century until just after World War One, it seems a fitting tribute to perform the show in the centenary year of WWI, and the stark reminder that many of the fallen were actually the same age as those performing in the show makes it all the more poignant.
We meet a young couple – Emily and John Tallentire – as they begin their new marriage whilst struggling to look for work. Over several years of upheaval, John follows his brother into the mining district as his wife is seduced by another young farmer called Jackson Pennington. Fast forward sixteen years, and we meet May and Harry – John and Emily’s children – before following the family through the trauma of both men being sent to the front line.
Nikolai Foster’s inspired direction means the show reaches all heights of the auditorium, but also draws the audience straight into the heart of the action. Placed on a well-designed stage of mossy fields and rolling hills by Matthew Wright, the cast tackle inventive choreography by Nick Winston against the music and lyrics written by Howard Goodall. It is the music most of all that propels the piece, with the young voices tackling it beautifully.
With a slightly folky feel to it, Goodall’s energetic score is also played by the talented young musicians of the cast, doubling as ensemble members throughout. Led by musical director Sarah Travis, this is one of the main areas that the cast’s talents really shine through – some even singing, acting and playing their instruments at the same time.
Dominic Harrison as John takes on a very mature role, but carries it off well; he is equally paired opposite Amara Okereke as his wife Emily, who possesses a very naturally beautiful voice for such a young age. Other stand-out performances come from Joe Eaton-Kent as Jackson and Daisy Addison as best friend Sally Wrangham. It is hard to pick out singular performances when the ensemble work is the shows’s strongest moments.
Ranging from the ages of 11 to 23, the NYMT is an incredibly talented bunch, and the group hold everything together from the orchestra to the acting. I can only hope that NYMT continue to help to nurture young talent as there is certainly a whole heap of it about.
The Hired Man is playing at the St. James Theatre until 16 August. For more information and tickets see the St. James Theatre website.