24 Jul

Adapted by Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg from three books by Melvyn Bragg.
Music and Lyrics by Howard Goodall.
Melvyn Bragg’s three books about life in Cumbria in the early twentieth century have been adapted by the author and the composer Howard Goodall into a musical which is being revived at the Union Theatre in Southwark.
For those who are constantly complaining about the musical revivals from the USA, here is a thoroughly British show with typically English credentials. Both author and composer are well know to the British Public from their Television appearances.
Bragg’s story is inspired by the lives of his grandparents and great grandparents. John Tallentire ( Ifan Gwilym-Jones)arrives in the tiny village asking for a job as a hired man in on the Pennington’ farm. He is accepted and he waits for his wife Emily (Rebecca Gilliland) to arrive. Later he realises that the agricultural industry is not going to make him the money he needs and he elects to go down the mines instead. During the time he is away, Emily has a brief affair with Jackson Pennington, the local ladies’ man. The mines are dangerous and the work is hard. There is an explosion, men are killed and some of the minor try to start a Trades Union. One of the best scenes in the piece is the Union Song (Men of Stone)
In act two, the children of Emily and John have grown up and the world is at war with Germany. The war sequence is horrific and several of her cast disappear in the trenches, including one of the Tallentire children.
I think the main trouble with this production is not the actual direction, the songs, choreography (though would the village girls do cartwheels and show off their bloomers?) and the harmonies all of which are fine. It is just that, unless you know the stories – and I don’t – the plot is very difficult to follow. I didn’t even know that the baby in act one was now seventeen years of age. This made it very confusing. I thought the plethora of Tallentires must be John and Emily’s brothers and sisters.
I have had my ears tested recently and I think that there is a problem with the acoustic of the new Union Theatre. I am told that sound was suggested and turned down. There is a large cast and they move about a great deal. It is a shame and I hope that maybe the actors can be persuaded to give the words a little more welly. Although it is not a standard type of musical, it still needs to be heard.
There is some good grouping and a feeling of togetherness among the villagers, especially when there is an accident down the mine and when they all go to war.
My basic problem with this piece is the total lack of comedy. Usually people in wars manage to raise quite a lot of smiles. But this is depressing. I feel that when the world is in a disturbing state politically we need something a bit more uplifting to cheer us up.
This is just my feeling and I know that many people find this their favourite musical and that it is something worthy of respect. Yes, maybe but I would like a laugh or two when I go to the theatre.
Yes Ok, Great for people who liked gloom and misery but that ‘aint me. Sorry.

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