Edinburgh Fringe 2010
As the sequel to War Horse, ‘Farm Boy’ uses the touching relationship between Grandfather and Grandson to tell the charming story of how the old green Fordson Tractor came to be sitting in the back of Grandpa’s barn.
Daniel Buckroyd has adapted and directed Michael Morpurgo’s tale of the relationship between a farmer and his city grandson, and the thrilling competition between a Fordson tractor and two plough horses. On stage is the old green Fordson tractor itself, beautifully crafted by Tim Brierley and Susan Winter.
The Grandson has just returned from his studies to visit Grandpa on the farm, and whilst getting to know a little about life on the farm and the charming and honest relationship between these two characters, we discover the moving tale of how Joey the war horse is brought back to the farm by Albert, the Great Grandfather. Joey, along with another horse, Zoe, is still used to plough the fields. But neighbouring farmer, Harry Medcot, considers Grandpa to be behind the times – Medcot uses a Fordson tractor to plough his fields. And so it comes about that crowds gather from miles around to watch a ploughing competition between Grandpa with his two horses, and Medcot with his tractor.
John Walters’ portrayal of grandpa is both moving and funny, his delivery powerful and convincing. Matt Powell plays the grandson and the pair work wonderfully together, and as a duo have a fine sense of timing. Matt’s performance of the grandson is delivered with the requisite fun and energy for keeping the attention of his audience of both young and old. His portrayal of additional characters in the story, however, is occasionally lacking in definition, and delivered with less gusto than the grandson.
The company’s use of the space is quite lovely, running around and climbing here and there, and the actors are skilled in creating the thrilling atmosphere of a crowd in a field, or the hush of the barn in the middle of the night. The tractor itself has a real presence not only in the story but also on stage, evoking feelings which change from curiosity, to disgust and then pride. The actors’ attempts to transform a chair into a plough or the ropes of the horses through the use of physical movement aren’t always successful however, and the children in the seats behind me kept asking their mother ‘why are they doing that?’
On the whole though, the audience are attentive throughout, and given the lack of glitter and fireworks, this is quite some achievement for children’s theatre. Mark Dymock’s lighting creates the perfect atmosphere for the show, and Matt Marks’ original soundtrack for the piece is incredibly beautiful and emotive. Traditional, honest and simple storytelling is what makes this piece of theatre magical, and it’s portrayal of the joy of relationships that span generations is at once heart-warming and encouraging: all is not lost in an age of computer games and fast food.