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William: It’s 1958. The poor want meat.
Agar: Do they? Oh dear. They don’t want meat every day do they?
*On 14th May 1875 Lord Primrose Agar, drunk as a skunk, wagered one of his tenant farmers, Orlando Harrison, that his border collie pup Jip would outlive the 94-year-old Harrison. The prize would be 82 acres of up and down known as Kilham Wold Farm, near Driffield in East Yorkshire. *
*Thirteen years later, having buried his dog, Agar shook hands with Orlando and conferred on the Harrisons a century of struggle. *
Richard Bean’s comic new play sweeps through four generations of a Yorkshire farming family fighting to protect their livelihood.
Director: Wilson Milam
Design: Dick Bird
Lighting: Paul Keogan
Sound: Gareth Fry
Cast includes: Sharon Bower, Mike Burnside, Sian Brooke, Matthew Dunster, Gareth Farr, Craig Gazey, Jane Hazlegrove, Adrian Hood, Clare Lams, Paul Popplewell, Jochum Ten Haaf, Dickon Tyrell.
Richard Bean’s previous plays at the Royal Court are HONEYMOON SUITE (English Touring Theatre), UNDER THE WHALEBACK and TOAST. His other work includes THE GOD BOTHERERS (Bush), THE MENTALISTS (NT), MR ENGLAND (Crucible, Sheffield) and SMACK FAMILY ROBINSON (Newcastle Live!).
‘I can’t recommend this thrilling, savagely funny and deeply affecting play too highly.’ [UNDER THE WHALEBACK] DAILY TELEGRAPH
‘A fine comedy of aspiration and regret’ [HONEYMOON SUITE] Daily Mail
‘An enjoyably quirky way of dramatising change, disillusion and decay‘ [HONEYMOON SUITE] The Times
Wilson Milam’s previous work for the Royal Court was FRESH KILLS and FLESH WOUND. Other theatre includes DEFENDER OF THE FAITH (Abbey, Dublin); TRUE WEST (Bristol Old Vic); LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE (RSC); ON SUCH WE (Abbey, Dublin); A LIE OF THE MIND (Donmar); THE WEXFORD TRILOGY (Tricycle / Lowry / Gateway); HURLYBURLY (Old Vic / Queens).
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Dates in September
|Fri 2 Sep 2005||12:00am||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
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This is a most extraordinary play by Richard Bean: only an English playwright could have come up with such a blend of serious social history and boisterous rural comedy. The play is set in the kitchen / living room of a small Yorkshire farmhouse; its seven scenes take you from 1914 to 2005.
Bean’s subject is agriculture and the fortunes and misfortunes, lives, deaths and dogged perseverance of people who live off and for the land. The play is a tale of generation, a celebration and a requiem. What is your future if you breed pigs only because that’s what you want to do? Where are the EU grants for small people who are driven simply by passion and dedication? Your country needs you, but it seldom asks what you need.
Bean’s characters are vigorously typical and wonderfully individual, and Wilson Milam’s production brings out their determination, short-sighted blunders and hilarious eccentricities. There’s not a single weak link in the cast of 12 self effacingly virtuoso actors, but I’ll single out Sian Brooke, who moved from highly sexed, voluptuous teenager to vigorous mother hen to lean, ancient, fire-spitting matron. Watch this girl.
John Peter, SUNDAY TIMES, 18 September 2005
With its beautifully textured, multi layered storytelling and the warmth and wit of its characterisations, Richard Bean’s play poignantly reveals the passing not just of lives but a way of life, too. It is given a production that is alive to every nuance of this heartfelt and captivating story of pig farming and survival.
It is already the play of the year so far.
Mark Shenton, SUNDAY EXPRESS, 18 September 2005
Chic, short plays with tiny casts have been all the rage in recent years, and, since critics are as prone to laziness as anyone else, I have rather welcomed the trend. Nevertheless, such drama minceur can often leave an audience feeling dramatically unsatisfied.
There is, however, a new movement among playwrights who call themselves the Monsterists. They want to get back to big, baggy, large-cast dramas, played on main stages, and are even suggesting a tax on dead writers to subside such ambitious new work.
One of their number is Richard Bean, a marvellously funny and humane dramatist whose previous successes include Toast, set in a bread factory, and Under the Whaleback, an account of the lives of North Sea trawlermen so vivid that at times it made you feel seasick.
Now he has come up with Harvest, another work-play in the established Royal Court tradition, and the most satisfying and ambitious new drama of the year to date.
It’s certainly a monster. There’s a cast of a dozen, some of them playing a couple of roles apiece, the running time is three hours, and the action ranges from 1914 to the present day. Oh, and i’ts all about farming, and pig farming in particular. I can imagine the fashionable darlings who frequent the Court recoiling in horror at this news. A play about pigs? With no time for dinner afterwards? But they will be missing a treat. Harvest finds an already fine dramatist extending his range and writing at the peak of his powers.
Raw, muddy naturalism combines with delightfully quirky humour and in seven scenes spanning 90 years, theres a constant sense of the big dramatic arcs of birth, sex, work and death.
You are genuinely anxious to know what’s going to happen next as we follow the Harrison family through four generations, but what I like best about Bean is his generosity. He obviously cares for his vividly drawn characters, and appreciates such unfashionable virtues as fortitude and loyalty. And though the play, all set in the kitchen of Kilham Wold Farm, East Yorkshire, includes a fatal shooting, terminal illness, two world wars, armed robbery, attempted rape, commercial failure and all the other sad depredations of time and tide, the play never succumbs to facile pessimism. There is a constant sense here that life is worth the candle.
The play begins in 1914 with two brothers, William and Albert arguing over who should go to the trenches and who should stay to look after the farm. It is William who goes, and he loses both his legs, but he never loses either his resilience or his humour as he returns and keeps fighting for his farm right into the 21st century.
Bean invents a wonderful gallery of characters, ranging from an eccentric squire to a huge and hilarious pig man called Titch (Adrian Hood) who delivers one-liners with devastating frankness. The dramatist also charts the problems that have beset British agriculture since the Great War and develops delightful running jokes that sometimes take several decades to reach their denouement. The director, Wilson Milam, proves equally adept at capturing the plays ambitious overriding architecture and its delight in human detail. Matthew Dunster gives a tour de force as the spirited, wise-cracking, wheelchair-bound William, whose life he charts from the age of 19 to a spectacular final appearance at the age of 109. And Sian Brooke is superb as his niece Laura, whom we follow from sexually fulfilled youth to plucky old age. But there isn’t a single dud performance from this outstanding ensemble, and the play keeps springing surprises to the end.
Funny, poignant and with a heart as big as a house, this is a rich Harvest indeed.
Charles Spencer, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, 12 September 2005 5 stars FIVE STARS
The world of Richard Bean’s Harvest, a funny absorbing family saga in defence of our farmers, is similarly authentic. Running for nearly three hours, and stretching across four generations of the Harrisons who work 80 acres in East Yorkshire, the play is a small epic. Several scenes start with an abrupt adjective concerning the weather (ot, cawld or foggy), the frequently hostile element that governs a farmers day. But the play is about many other unpredictable and harsh pressures that have threatened and continue to threaten farming.
It begins in 1914, when the Harrison’s horses are requisitioned. The First World War robs the eldest son, William, of his legs; in the Second World War, the government forces the family to plough up their pasture they need to feed their anmals and grow corn instead.
For a short time, William’s brilliantly managed pig project is a success, until new European regulations dictate a costly change of practice, and the business comes crashing down.
While the poor farmers are desperate to the point of suicidal, the aristocratic landowners wallow in the millions of pounds of Government grants they dont need.
Bean’s extraordinary achievements are to make all this credible and to make it matter, not just to already sympathetic country bumpkins like me, but to townies whose knowledge of country life comes from a combination of The Archers and glossy magazines selling rural bliss and farmhouse teas on checked tablecloths in a thoroughly green and pleasant land.
He does it with his splendidly salty writing and a cast of engaging characters. At the centre is the spirited sirvivor William aged 19 when we first meet him, and growing greyer in a series of increasingly swanky wheelchairs as time goes on wonderfully played by Matthew Dunster.
Then there’s Adrian Hood’s pigman, Titch, a grunting giant who loves his girls with a passion.
Director Wilson Milam brings home the bacon with a fabulously well-acted production. Highly recommended.
Georgina Brown, THE MAIL ON SUNDAY, 11 September 2005
It’s 1958 and the crackly wireless in the Harrison’s kitchen forecasts the weather then switches to The Archers theme tune. Mastthew Dunster’s William, scarcely glancing up from his worksheets, turns it off pronto. This sparks delighted laughter from the Royal Court audience not only because half of them evidently share William’s reaction to the agricultural soap, but also because Richard Bean’s quietly enthralling and remarkably funny new family saga is itself all about farming in Yorkshire.
Directed by Wilson Milam, this is an ambitious epic, spreading over 90 years from 1914, yet it has touching intimacy and humane warmth as well, tracing the lives of four overlapping generations of smallholders in this one house – a beautifully spartan set by Dick Bird with rough whitewashed walls, skeletal beams and a brick yard glimpsed through the window. Harvest is simultaneously a tender romance, tracing a web of love triangles, and a play about work too which charts a traditional yet changing industry one of this writers favourite genres. Here the Harrisons fend off the local squire and struggle to survive crippling demands during both world wars, European directives and supermarket demands.
The final Act, where the phenomenally ancient William and his elderly niece, Sian Brooke’s Laura tackle two young burglars with a shotgun is perhaps slightly strained, though frightening too. But almost all the acting is exquisitely observed and natural bringing to mind Peter Gill’s wonderful Royal Court rural play The York Realist. Milam’s directing is also brilliantly assured when Bean pushes these lives in unexpected directions and tilts boldly into black humour. Dunster’s William, a great character, is terrifically resilient and witty, countering his dangerously volatile brother, Gareth Farr’s Albert, Sharon Bower, Jane Hazelgrove and Brooke are effortlessly excellent, portraying tough and vivacious women, and Adrian Hood is pricelessly funny as Titch, a thunderously insensitive yet touchy ogre of a pigman. Strongly recommended.
Kate Bassett, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY, 11 September 2005
Soldiers are joining up at the beginning of Harvest. It is 1914. But Richard Bean’s subject is not war. He has written an almost three-hour-long play about pig farmers, not an obviously inviting subject for a stuffy summer’s night. But the play has life in it, almost more than Bean knows what to do with, and is directed beautifully by Wilson Milam. It opens with two Yorkshire brothers eating stew at a table in daringly extended silence, their spoons doing the talking. When they start to speak, it is to quarrel about which of them is to join up (both want to go). Bean has an unusual talent for dialogue and revels in human comedy (he turns a childbirth scene into a skilful farce). But he is at his best when rooted in reality; his homework about pig farming pays off. The play is sitated in a farm kitchen, but leaps decades between scenes so that the family’s history may unfurl (it ends in 2005). Dick Bird’s design, with its solid beams, is lovely.
Kate Kellaway, THE OBSERVER, 11 September 2005
It was just as hot as the following night at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre where Richard Bean’s Harvest has just opened. This is a very funny new play and had I been more comfortable I am sure the three hours would have passed quickly. Harvest is about a struggling farming family in Yorkshire. It starts in 1914 as William Harrison and his brother Albert (Matthew Dunster and Gareth Farr) bicker in their kitchen about which one of them will be lucky enough to fight in the war. William wins out and loses his legs at Ypres. By the end of the play, in 2005, he is an all-too-incredible 110. Both he and the farm have survived, but it’s been one hell of a struggle. You could almost smell the muck and the sweat and that was just the audience. Brave the stifling heat, though, and go and see it, especially if you are a pig.
Rebecca Tyrrell, THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH,12 September 2005 4 stars FOUR STARS
If I warm to Richard Bean’s new play, it is because it defies all the rules of modern drama. It runs three hours rather than the standard 90 minutes. It covers the period from 1914 to today, and it is set on a Yorkshire pig farm rather than a run-down housing estate. Even if Bean’s abundance leads to dramatic excess, it is a price well worth paying.
Bean’s unfashionable aim is to pay tribute to our supposedly featherbedded farmers; and if one character holds this rural saga together, it is one called William. We first see him as a 19 year old, competing with his sibling with the right to go to war in 1914. By the time he returns as an amputee, he is driven by the idea of turning the 82 acre family farm into a pig factory.
Prodigious success in the 1950s, however, turns into debt-crippled failure in the modern over-regulated world, and William ends up as an embittered but still pugnacious centenarian. What comes across clearly are the multiple pressures to which Britain’s small farmers are historically subject. Edicts from the Ministry in 1944 to produce corn, rather than meat or milk later turn into battles with the European Community over factory farming. There is also class conflict with the landed gentry embodied by a dilettante squire who ends up owing the feed company that dictates terms to the small farmer.
But what animates Bean’s play is his delight in rustic eccentricity and his prize specimen is a looming Yorkshire pig-man called Titch, who comes close to stealing the show. Memorably played by Adrian Hood, he is a blunt-spoken fanatic who occasionally finds sexual solace in the company of pigs, and who regards them as intelligent, but not too clever. Just enough, as he says, to mek it interesting, but not enough to get yer worried.
Even if Bean’s final scene bangs home the play’s pro-farming message, the evening is held together by Wilson Milam’s production and by a set of vigorous performances. Ageing over 90 years, Matthew Dunster conveys the peppery dedication of William, who has sacrificed his life to bringing home the bacon. Sian Brooke as an equally dedicated niece, and Dickinson Tyrell as the gentleman squire are equally impressive, and one emerges faintly exhausted but a lot wiser about country life.
Michael Billington, THE GUARDIAN, 9 September