The Hired Man, Octagon Theatre, Bolton

3.00

A pastoral musical to Bragg about

He's the nation's favourite composer, according to Classic FM, and one of its most prolific creative voices.

There's hardly anyone who couldn't recognise one of Howard Goodall's themes for TV and films, including Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley. While his latest musical, Love Story, is causing a run on paper tissues in Chichester, The Hired Man is holding audiences spellbound in Bolton.

In collaboration with director David Thacker and Melvyn Bragg, on whose Cumbrian upbringing the book is based, Goodall has revisited the score of The Hired Man, adapting the music in tandem with Thacker and Bragg's pruning of the narrative. Composed when Goodall was just 26, the score is ambitious in the way it combines an English country folk idiom with slightly more original material, resourceful in its colourful use of a pianist and the instrumental skills of a versatile ensemble cast, and affecting in its irresistible humanity.

You can see why, in 1984, when The Hired Man was running in the West End, it attracted several awards and was voted Best Musical of the Year. A soap-opera style saga, it's almost easier to list what doesn't happen here than what does, since Bragg invested so much of the Cumbrian love, life and death he knew or imagined into his novel and, subsequently, this musical. Spanning several decades, the story encompasses the lives of the Tallentire brothers, focusing on John (a robust Kieran Hill) and his feisty wife, Emily (Amy Nuttall), combining the private and public passions of people for whom life was never anything but tough. As well as lacking a powerful stand-out song, it's odd that the "Song of the Hired Men" – land labourers who have accepted that life is anything but a bed of roses – is such a robust chorus shot through with apparent optimism.

In the Octagon's enthusiastic production the music seems to unfold in step with the rolling narrative in an impressively vivid account by the two dozen or so company members and extras. Despite its limitations in terms of emotional richness and musical sophistication in comparison with Goodall's more recent scores, the music is allusive, yearning in its pastoral pastiche, edgier in the darker moments and always easy on the ear.

Thacker's fast-paced production – moving setting and characters deftly on from barren farmland to the treacherous Whitehaven mines and the explosive trenches of the First World War – invests the simple narrative with a kaleidoscopic shifting of moods. Dawn Allsopp's multi-layered, wood-slatted set provides an effective backdrop. If Nuttall's Emily, ageing through unrequited passion, political awakening and family loss, is more convincing here as an actress than a singer, Barbara Hockaday, as her daughter, and Clara Darcy as her trumpet-playing friend Sally both display clear voices. John Cusworth provides an altogether engaging love interest. The cast as a whole, held together under Carol Sloman's vigorous musical direction, show a real feel for Goodall's idiom in some striking choruses and a variety of cameo roles. Some clunky dialogue apart, the show makes a positive statement about people existing at the mercy of their circumstances yet somehow, we're left hoping, triumphing over them.

To 3 July (01204 520661)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?