Last month I visited Hull Truck for a press night with my girlfriend who loves theatre; I watched her point up at a banner and exclaim the words ‘The Hired Man’. I knew that this was a show I had to see when May rolled around. And alas May did roll around and I did see The Hired Man; last night to be exact. And my, oh my I was correct to trust her recommendation.
Set in turn-of-the-20th-century Cumbria, The Hired Man is a serious musical about ordinary people; as made believable by the show’s small cast. Whilst the story is set between a wicked love triangle between John (Oliver Hembrough), Emily (Lauryn Redding) and Jackson (Lloyd Gorman), the supporting cast were far from behind the spotlight. Met by a band dressed in 20th century clothing as we walked into the theatre, we were immediately immersed in the era.
The first act was set in 1898, as we watch John as he tries to become… hired. Of course, he does; and what follows is the aftermath of a man who becomes obsessive in his work. Hembrough played John sublimely as he quickly deteriorates into a man who is obsessed with his working life. The use of the rotating thrust stage helped with concept of moving time, as we see John sludge through his work only to be stuck in the same spot; expressing how he is untimely going nowhere. Whilst this is happening, Gorman’s Jackson is trying to get closer to John’s wife Emily. Redding was definitely a standout actor; her performance of Emily was breath-taking and really sold the struggle between these two men. The second act sees a time jump of around 16 years which was set up wonderfully by an exchange between May (Lara Lewis) and Jackson. The time jump seemed natural following this scene and made for a progressive plotline post-interval.
Related: What’s on at Hull Truck Theatre
The use of the instruments was mind blowing. Not only did the actor/musos carry their instruments across the stage whilst playing them (the carrying of the double bass was extra impressive), they also managed to remember the whole score alongside singing and acting; the cast are a real triumph of musical theatre and were such a joy to watch. The cast, in all, were brilliant musicians, wearing their instruments confidently and playing them with flair.
There was a very funny scene in which Seth (TJ Holmes) drags the cello across the stage pretending it’s a whippet. The audience got a real kick out of the rest of the cast stroking the cello, telling it that it’s a good boy.
The instruments also doubled up as diegetic sound. For example, in the second act the cast scratched the strings of the double bass and guitar creating the sound effects of a mining shaft collapsing. Not only did this make the scene insanely intense, but it truly showed pure creativity of the cast whole production team.
The Hired Man is running until the 15th of June at Hull Truck Theatre. It’s a brilliant way to see West End quality theatre in the comfort of your own city. The production is gripping, funny, dramatic, and full of heart. The cast are truly a marvel to behold from their convincing acting, to their incredible voices, to their aptitude of playing instruments.