MELVYN Bragg’s relationship with his paternal grandfather inspired a book which beautifully evokes the working life of rural and industrial Cumbrian at the very start of the 20th century.
That story springs to life on stage in Huddersfield this month in a new touring production of the musical theatre piece based on that book, The Hired Man.
Musical and novel are firmly rooted in the landscape in which writer and broadcaster Lord Bragg grew up.
He says: “My paternal grandfather died in 1970. I would guess that he had never read a book in the 20th century.
“He left school at the end of the 19th century, when Queen Victoria sat securely on a vast empire, rich and varied beyond belief.
“His part in it, like that of the majority of people in this country, was humble; he worked.”
Bragg’s grandfather had an exhausting working life on the land, then became a miner and was swept away to the First World War.
When he came back he found only a return to life on the land waiting.
Bragg added: “After he died I went for a long walk around the Cumbrian town in which I had been brought up, the town in which he had lived all my life.
“I decided to write a book ‘about him’. This turned into The Hired Man.”
In fact, once Bragg got started he found that the few facts that he knew about his grandfather became no more than a starting point for his novel.
For The Hired Man, published in 1969, not only presented the personal story of the sort of man whose life is rarely written about, but brought to life a crucial period in our history, when the country was being swept into a new century and “the war to end all wars’’.
Powerful material then for Midlands-based New Perspectives Theatre Company, whose new production of The Hired Man, created as a piece of musical theatre by Bragg and composer Howard Goodall, opens at the Lawrence Batley Theatre on Thursday, February 21.
The show, which runs for two nights, features an ensemble cast of eight and is directed by Daniel Buckroyd.
The story revolves around a young married couple trying to carve a living from the land in the rugged, beautiful landscape of Cumbria.
Their journey, from working the land to mining and back again, is set against the background of working class ritual; whippet racing, hiring fairs, hunting, drinking bouts, union meetings.
Goodall’s musical score is strong in the British choral tradition; expect a series of chorales, operatic duets and vigorous foot-stomping rhythms.
New Perspectives are making their first visit to the LBT. The company tours to between 80 and 120 community venues across the six counties of the East Midlands.
Performances at the LBT are at 7.30pm. Phone the box office at 01484 430528.