Farm Boy

Written by Matthew Morpurgo
Adapted and directed by Daniel Buckroyd
Featuring Richard Pryal and John Walters
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
December 7, 2011 [press opening December 13, 2011] — January 1, 2012
production web site and series web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
December 8, 2011

John Walters and the tractor.

Boys, Devon farm dirt and tractors, grandfathers, stories touching on war and animals and communication between generations and a way of life shrouded in myth and nostalgia.  These elements inform a storytelling session couched as theatre (not much action, just two men telling stories as their characters or in the voice of other characters or sometimes in the third person about still other characters) set in contemporary times (on a farm, on a train, in their minds) currently in residence at 59E59 Theaters.  The stories are sweet, the dramatization spare and sometimes not quite successful.  This is the continuation of the story cum puppet theatre cum movie soon to open War Horse that is sometimes intriguing and sometimes lead footed.  We hear the entire War Horse story (farm boy’s father sells/leases boy’s beloved horse to the Army for use during World War I and the underage boy enlists to begin the apparently impossible task of finding the horse on the battlefields of Europe) for an extended section of this short piece.  In the end, it is a quiet and partially redundant ride.

Modern-day Grandson (Richard Pryal) visits Grandfather (John Walters) on his family farm and asks for stories.  Stories about the boy’s Great Grandfather who was the horse-loving youth in War Horse.  Stories of a tractor that looms on stage, a horse versus tractor plowing competition on a bet, a trip that takes the grandson eventually to Australia.  Stories.  As theatre there are challenges here — the dramatist doesn’t make any clear consistent choices about the role of the audience and why our two characters are telling stories to us throughout the course of the show.  Further, there are a few moments when our characters take on still other characters and we encounter at one point my least favorite and mood halting story telling technique — a man doing a squeaky-voiced slightly pouty portrayal of a female character. Our younger man even tells us of leaving the farm and going to Australia, then in the next beat he is back before us, continuing conversations with Grandfather.  Making some dramatic choices about where the stories are being told and why would tighten the structure and the experience for adults.  Children and youth comfortable with entering and exiting storybook storytelling may find this an entirely fulfilling theatre outing.  Don’t expect outsized puppetry but do expect a functioning (or at least steam and noise-making) tractor that illustrates the next phase of farming after the horse age.

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 13, 2011)

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