Keeping them down on the farm with impressive storytelling

Farm Boy - Blackpool Grand Theatre
Farm Boy - Blackpool Grand Theatre
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Farm Boy - Grand Theatre, Blackpool

Its billing as the sequel to his award winning War Horse might in part have been a fillip to box office interest for Michael Morpurgo’s Farm Boy but it could also have raised expectations about just what this two handed offering from the enterprising New Perspectives Theatre Company had to offer.

Even before the box office smash film version, War Horse had achieved a shelf full of accolades and awards for a National Theatre stage version of huge proportions – including life size puppets and a large cast.

Farm Boy on the other hand is spartan in design.

A rusting old Fordson tractor dominating centre stage and just John Walters and Gareth Bennett-Ryan to spin supreme storyteller Morpurgo’s words into a one act 60 minute intimate theatrical experience.

Whereas War Horse was set so memorably in that currently much revisited and truly horrific World War One period (recently seen to great effect in Parade’s End and less authentically in Downton Abbey), Farm Boy picks up the reins (no pun intended) some years later.

The boy who went to war to locate his beloved horse Joey is the great grandfather of the young protagonist of this piece – and much of the story is told through the lips of the boy’s grandfather, a Devon farmer.

He “loves to remember” we are told and he “loves swallows,” he is content with tradition and movingly recalls how his 14 year old father went to a war he thought was just “a scrape” and came home three years later after surviving “hell on earth.”

But it was, of course, “the war to end all wars,” until next one and the next one and the ones still raging.

Walters, who has played the role of the grandfather for three years captures perfectly the changes he has spanned – a man of few words who finds a new voice one taught to read and write by his grandson, sympathetically portrayed by Bennett-Ryan. While the youngster plans to travel the world his grandfather is happy to have never wandered far from the farm, ploughing his personal furrow as straight as the ones his father taught him first to create with horses and later with that centre stage tractor.

It’s a gentle story of traditions passed down and role reversals which depends on and succeeds because of the way the words are expressed.