Farm Boy/by Michael Morpurgo/adapted by Daniel Buckroyd/directed by David Fofi/Matrix Theatre/closed August 26
After the tremendous joy that War Horse provided its audiences, particularly because of its astounding puppetry, one might question if its sequel Farm Boy, a small scale production without the horse puppets, would be anywhere near as engaging onstage. Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. It's all in the storytelling. Like a good story can pull in a reader, good actors can engage an audience with a rich and rewarding story. Such is the case with Michael Morpurgo's Farm Boy whose 60-minute visual representation of tradition proves richly theatrical.
Farm Boy picks up some 60 years later, when the son of Albert, who went off in WWI to find his horse Joey, is now a grandfather (Lawrence Pressman) living on the same family farm in Devon, England. This man has a grandson (Simon Lees) who comes to work on The Farm before going off to study engineering at University. During a visit, grandfather confides in his grandson that he cannot read and offers his grandson money to teach him to read and write. The results of the grandfather's success become even more laudatory when he writes down a story that he gives his grandson to take away with him. The story goes back to the time when Albert, now married with a son, puts Joey and another horse Zoey to yet another strenuous test. They must compete with a tractor to see who can plough the land with the greatest speed and efficiency. Can Joey save the day and win a bet that Albert has made? He has bet the rich owner of the tractor that if he, Albert loses, he must pay the man one hundred bales of hay, but if he wins, the man must surrender his tractor. It seems impossible to believe that a horse could beat a tractor, but it does indeed happen and grandpa's father Albert wins the prize tractor. What is most winning about the story is that it is grandfather's first - put to paper - and that it is read by the grandson who has developed such an incredible bond with him. After the boy graduates college, despite his degree in engineering, he returns to Devon and The Farm to take up where his ailing grandfather has left off, continuing the tradition, carrying on the family business of farming.
With David Fofi's beloved hand as guide, it is the overwhelming physical and emotional commitment of both actors that makes the story work so beautifully. Pressman is remarkable, making grandpa a true champion in every way. Lees' grandson is small but rugged, stubborn yet obedient to family values, which in itself is rare and commendable by today's standards. Aaron Glazer's set - big and open with painted sky and white horses on the back wall, and Gil Tordjiman's lighting add magic as does Katrina Wood's lovely music. Watch for a return of this genuinely heartwarming piece!