REVIEW: Farm Boy – Garrick Theatre – Lichfield


Adapting Morpurgo’s sequel to the beloved War Horse was never going to be an easy task, especially after the incredible success of the National Theatre’s landmark production of its predecessor. Where War Horse shines is in its poignant narrative and the investment of those enjoying the story following a compelling and ambitious narrative, Farm Boy offers a radically different perspective. It tells the story of Albert’s son (Alan Booty) and his life growing up on their family farm, observed through the lens of Albert’s great grandson (Jonathan Houlston). I went into this production wanting to absolutely love it, having loved the original story and being a keen supporter of the Garrick’s excellent work, however, this production is somewhat letdown by its ability to captivate its audience.

Utilising just 2 actors for the entire show, this adaptation centres in on the power of storytelling. Alan Booty and Jonathan Houlston do well to command attention through the piece. There is a very believable dynamism between the two and it’s a heartfelt portrayal of the relationship between grandparent and grandchild. Booty demonstrates a real and genuine understanding of the character, creating a very compelling and believable grandfather who battles with the loss of his wife, the memories of his father and his illiteracy. Houlston, though very charming in his portrayal, has a harder time. This is partially an issue with the script and the one-dimensional nature of his character, as well as some issues in direction. Too many of his lines are delivered in identical ways and at times, the direction feels like that of a pantomime protagonist. 

There is much to celebrate in this production. Matt Marks’ music punctuates the show and helps to break up some of the scenes, indicate small or large changes in time or location and provides a levity to the production. This is coupled beautifully with Barry Smith’s lighting design which helps to illuminate the stage and ensure that Fi Russell’s beautiful set is lit well in all the right moments. 

That said, there are some areas which hinder the production’s overall effect. Russell’s set design is very likeable and offers a wonderful scene-setting in the barn. However, the tractor on stage takes up a considerable amount of space. It makes the actors feel claustrophobic; they dodge round it as they move around the set. The visual is nice, but the scale in relation to the set makes it challenging. 

The biggest issue stopping the play’s resonance with the audience is the script. The play is essentially in 3 parts – the first introduces our two characters and recapping for the audience the story of War Horse. This feels like a laborious initial quarter of the show. The second quarter revolves around the grandfather’s illiteracy. There is some development here, but all investment in the outcome is lost as the direction already has the grandfather reading the newspaper at the start of the show – therefore, we already understand the resolution before the story has begun. 

The final half of the show is devoted to telling the story of a competition comparing horse and tractor. This is where Daniel Buckroyd’s script and direction does come alive. The storytelling here is much more compelling than anything seen in the first half of the show. However, once again, all stakes are removed from the story because the tractor is openly discussed at the start and is on stage for the entire show. Resultantly, the ending of the story holds no mystery, suspense or tension  because we already know the outcome. 

Regardless of the above, Farm Boy still offers an interesting look at the power of stories and the beautiful art of storytelling. Its central relationship is compelling and offers a really touching portrayal of the relationship between grandfather and grandchild. And, if nothing else, Lichfield Garrick have to be commended for their work in bringing theatre into the community. It’s genuinely fantastic to see this and I am pleased that local communities across Staffordshire will get to experience the joy of theatre.

Farm Boy plays at the Garrick until the 10th March 2024 where it will tour to local communities around Staffordshire ahead of a UK tour later in the year and in 2025.

photography throughout from Pamela Raith






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