There’s something unavoidably artificial about musicals.

Picture this: First world war soldiers struggle across no man’s land, seeking the safety of the trenches. Gunfire flashes illuminate their wearied faces. It’s all very reminiscent of the poignant final scene in Blackadder Goes Forth.

Suddenly, the soldiers pop up, rifles in hand, and burst into song. If you can cope with tonal shifts such as this, you’ll love this production of The Hired Man.

Everything seems more natural in the first half where the folk-inspired tunes are brought to life by talented actor-musicians playing members of a Cumbrian rural community in the 1890s. It all plays out against the backdrop of a moody Northern sky.

Lauryn Redding exudes passion throughout as female lead, Emily. Oliver Hembrough gives a nuanced performance as undemonstrative John, allowing emotion to flow in song while showing suitable restraint in dialogue. The circular, revolving stage reflects the cycle of Emily and John’s relationship as we follow them from newly-weds onwards.

Lara Lewis (as their daughter May) and Lucy Keirl (as Emily’s friend Sally) make the most of their supporting roles, interacting naturally with Redding. It’s a shame we never get better acquainted with Lloyd Gorman’s enigmatic Jackson.

Douglas Rintoul’s production is beautifully earnest and full of emotional integrity. The whole cast enter into the spirit of the production with gusto.

It may not be enough to convert the anti-musical brigade, but then we wouldn’t want to waste it on them anyway.

The Hired Man is at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 6 July 2019

Photo credit: Mark Sepple

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