The Hired Man Synopsis & Cast

The Hired Man – Synopsis

Omitting the customary overture, the show plunges straight into the first scene. The main character John Tallentire, a newly married man is taking part in a hiring fair, which were held bi-annually. Men and women travelled for miles to be “hired on”. The stage is full of movement and snatches of dialogue, as labourers and farmers bargin over wages (‘Song Of The Hired Men’).

John Tallentire meets his two brothers, Isaac and Seth. Seth works down the coal mines, Isaac avoids work when he can. The three brothers adjourn to the pub. John has taken a job as a farm labourer in nearby Crossbridge. His wife, Emily, who is pregnant, joins him (‘Now For The First Time’).

A keen betting man, Isaac issues a general challenge to a wrestling match. Jackson Pennington, son of the farmer who has just offered the “luck penny” (a shilling, their only form of contract) and hired John, accepts the challenge. He is defeated, but Emily at least has obviously been impressed. At Crossbridge the labourers work the hard ground (‘Work Song/It’s All Right For You’).

John enjoys his work but Emily, who has given birth to a daughter, May, tells her new-found friend Sally she is dissatisfied with the life.Jacksonapproaches. Sally is under his spell, but it is Emily that Jackson wants. With Emily’s agreement, Isaac persuades John to go fox-hunting with him (‘Get Up And Go, Lad’).

John decides to stay away for the night. It is Jackson who delivers the message to Emily. The temptation is too much for her (‘I Wouldn’t Be The First’). The next day John returns. The distance between the married couple is growing. Abandoning hope of getting Emily for himself alone,Jacksonjoins the army, hoping to go toIndia. As he is saying farewell to his old cronies at the pub he receives a whispered message from Joe Sharpe. He waits outside the pub (‘Hear Your Voice’).

We find out who the message was from when Emily arrives. She is distraught at him leaving without telling her. Inside the pub the men are gossiping and John suddenly realises what has been going on. He catches his wife withJackson. There is a fight, andJacksonis beaten, while Emily stands by torn between the two men (‘If I Could’).

For Act Two the year shifts forward from 1898 to 1914. John and Emily are still together and have had another child, this time a son called Harry. May, now sixteen, is on a summer day out, on a hill overlooking the village of Crossbridge with her younger brother. Harry runs off, excited by the sound of a gun firing. May removes some of her clothing and luxuriates in the sunshine (‘You Never See the Sun’).

Jacksonenters with a gun. He is home on leave and has been doing some shooting. In the conversation which follows, we learn the Tallentires are now living in Whitehaven, where John has joined his brother down the pit. Jackson asks wistfully after Emily.

The scene moves to the Tallentires’ house in Whitehaven. Emily has taken a job in a factory, which doesn’t please her husband. Harry wants to go down the pit like his father, but Emily will not hear of it. It turns out headstrong Harry has gone behind his parents’ backs and signed on at the mine anyway (‘What Would You Say To Your Son?’).

Seth is now a force in the miners’ union. He is trying to get all the men to join, but some are opposed. The meeting ends in a fight. The great War descends on the family, ripping them apart (‘Farewell Song’) as first John, Seth, their other brother Isaac and then Harry (who is still under-age) sign up to go to fight in France.

The patriotic soldiers soon discover the grim realities of trench warfare (‘War Song/So Tell Your Children’). The Tallentires like most families are not spared the tragedy and horror of those four years.

The war over, we move forward to 1920. Isaac is now married. Seth has become a pacifist. For old times’ sake, John and Emily return to Crossbridge for an outing to the Friendly Society Annual Day . Emily, who is not well now, having developed tuberculosis, suggests that they should return to the land. Both have regrets over what has happened in the past but their love has survived (‘No Choir of Angels’).

In a pit accident John and two friends are cut off by a roof fall. Seth and the others succeed in their rescue attempt, but John returns home to find that a final tragedy has descended on the family. Finally he makes up his mind to do as Emily wanted and return to the land. The story ends as it began, with John seeking work as a hired man.


Characters: John & Emily Tallentire, Seth & Isaac Tallentire, Jackson Pennington, Father Pennington, May & Harry Tallentire, Sally Wrangham nee Edmondson, Ted Blacklock, farmers and farmworkers, miners, soldiers of the Great War.

Original Cast (Leicester & London): Julia Hills, Paul Clarkson, Richard Walsh, Gerard Doyle, Clare Burt, Billy Hartman, Craig Pinder, Christopher Wild, Sarah Woollett, Michael Mawby, Stephen Earle, Stephen Jameson, Nelly Morrison, Gareth Snook, Robert Gill, Nicholas David, Philip Childs, Tony Crean, Richard Bartlett, Janice Cramer, Joseph Lloyd-Collatin; directed by David Gilmore, designed by Martin Johns, Choreographed by Anthony Van Laast, musical director Kate Young (assistant MD Helen Ireland)

Original Cast (Southampton): Phyllis Logan, David Tysall, Trevor Cooper, Trevor T Smith, Richard Walsh, Elizabeth Morton, Claire Parker, Peter Llewelyn-Williams, Stephen Earle, Billy Hartman, Stephen Jameson, Graham Callan, Paul Clarkson, Michael Mawby, Tilda Swinton, Nigel Eaton; designed by Roger Glossop, musical director Kate Young, director David Gilmore.


Key information:

Text: Book by Melvyn Bragg. Music & lyrics by Howard Goodall

Instrumentation: tpt – harp – pno – harpsichord – db – (optional string quartet)

Première: 1984, Nuffield Theatre, Southampton:

Availability: Performance materials available on hire from Faber Music (; rights licensed by Faber Music Copyright Dept ( (USA & Canada only). For all other territories, please contact the Really Useful Group