nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
December 9, 2011
In a fascinating study of contrasts Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse story continues off-Broadway—in a sense. Farm Boy was written by Morpurgo in 1997 as a kind of sequel to his popular children’s book War Horse that he penned in 1982. With the wildly successful production still running at Lincoln Center and a Spielberg film version opening at a cinema near you, this production of Farm Boy couldn’t be timelier. Morpurgo took an interesting approach to his sequel by setting the piece in a far different era than the original story. Farm Boy highlights the relationship between a country grandfather and his city-born grandson, and traces the history of an old beat-up tractor hidden in the back of the barn. The story is described in the press release as “a moving account of the changing face of the English countryside.”
Farm Boy is not a play in the traditional sense but, as adapted and directed by Daniel Buckroyd, is an evening of storytelling. The grandfather, who is in fact the son of the hero of War Horse, and his own grandson take turns illuminating the joys of country living and regaling the audience with the continued adventures of Albert and Joey back home on the farm. As the story unfolds it is revealed the city-born grandson is on his way to University while his Grandfather admits to his desperation to learn to read and write.
Buckroyd’s set is extremely simple, consisting of a chair and the old Fordson tractor (created by Tim Brierley and Susan Winters) which fills and dominates the stage. The performers at times creatively incorporate the structure into their storytelling, but at other moments the tractor feels obstructive to the action. Mark Dymock’s lighting, Matt Mark’s original music and minimal effects help to keep the story flowing without a hitch.
By addressing the audience directly the script has a self-consciousness that is slightly distracting. And the overall simplicity of the production does leave the feel of a fringe or touring production particularly in comparison to the mega stage and film productions of War Horse currently on offer. But its very simplicity also emphasizes the power storytelling has to connect generations throughout history.
John Walters is wonderful as the grandfather with just the right amounts of warm joviality and cranky old man. Richard Pryal as the grandson is a good counterpoint with his earnest wide-eyed admiration and youthful frustration. They make a great team.
Director Buckroyd successfully manages to hold our attention throughout and allows the audience a glimpse into a bygone era. But it is the charming and heartfelt relationship between grandfather and grandson that is the centerpiece to the story; the tidbits they offer us about the continuing saga of Joey are an added bonus.
With its short length and subject matter Farm Boy makes a happy family destination during the holiday season. There never seem to be enough plays that the entire family can afford and enjoy.