Photo: Press

We’re huge fans of the National Theatre and we were intrigued to see what Dominic Cooke (The Normal Heart, Follies) would create with his revival of Emlyn Williams’ semi-autobiographical play, not seen in London for over 35 years. Set in early 20th century rural Wales, it tells the story of Miss Moffat (Nicola Walker) who is determined to help young local miners out of poverty by teaching them to read and write. She spots potential in the talented but unruly Morgan Evans (Iwan Davies), but faces resistance from the local community when she enters him for a scholarship for Oxford University.

Nicola Walker – best know for her work in TV series Unforgotten and The Split – is completely captivating in the lead role. She’s particularly brilliant in her seduction of The Squire (Rufus Wright) and her one-on-one scenes with her protege Evans, but she displays real range throughout this performance – not to mention a surprising amount of humour. In fact, that’s a theme throughout this play – it may be unexpected given the subject matter, but The Corn is Green is a genuinely very funny show to watch.

Photo: Press

Initially we weren’t completely sold on the production – early scenes unfold on a sparse stage without props, with author Emlyn Williams (Gareth David-Lloyd) becoming the narrator of his own story, setting each scene and talking us through what’s happening on-stage, supported by Christopher Shutt’s sound design. This gradually evolves over the course of the evening – act one sees more and more props being added to the stage, and by the time we reach act two, proceedings unfold in a fully-realised parlour, with Williams only there to gradually shape the on-stage action and nudge the narrative along. The device takes a while to warm up and a little longer than we’d have liked to used to, but eventually it works incredibly well.

That’s only a very minor gripe and we otherwise couldn’t find fault with this production. The central performances are genuinely excellent, and this is a heartwarming story – we felt fully emotionally invested in all the central characters here. There’s subtle use of music throughout which really works – a chorus of coal miners underscore proceedings and sing through scene changes, adding to the setting and cosy community feel of this production. It’s a real star turn from Nicola Walker, who is more than ably supported by a brilliant cast in a great revival of a gripping play. Not to be missed.

GAY TIMES gives The Corn is Green – 5/5

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