Fringe Box



Stage Review: Harvest – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 11 Oct, 2017
Updated on: 11 Oct, 2017

The cast of Harvest now showing at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

By Alice Fowler

Harvest, Richard Bean’s epic drama of farming life – on show at the Yvonne Arnaud this week – begins with an argument between brothers.

It is 1914, and only one of the two can go to war. The other must stay behind to look after the family farm: 82 acres of up and down in Yorkshire. William, the elder, wins the argument. When we see him next, in 1934, he is on crutches, having lost a leg at Ypres.

So the scene is set for an astonishing drama – sometimes comic, often tragic – in which we follow the Harrison family’s fortunes over four generations. The action leaps forward across the decades – with handy dated signs to tell us where we are – as this small farm is buffeted by forces far beyond its gates: war, changes in agricultural policy and, as we draw closer to the present, the breakdown of society itself.

Not that Harvest is bleak. Writer Richard Bean, after all, is best known for One Man, Two Guvnors, the huge comedy hit starring James Corden which began life at London’s National Theatre and moved on to New York and beyond. Harvest was first performed at the Royal Court in 2005, and is now revived as a six-actor ensemble by theatre company New Perspectives, who draw both humour and pathos from its epic sweep.

William, cleverly played by Tom Edward-Kane, emerges as the great survivor: living to well over 100, successfully converting the farm to pigs and outliving almost all his family.

The women, predictably perhaps, display lashings of Yorkshire grit and are ignored at the family’s peril. Outsiders arrive and often stay: a German prisoner of war, for example (Matthew Brown), who marries into the family, and decades later Titch (John Askew), a n’er-do-well pigman, who also stays and proves his worth.

There is social comment aplenty, for the family has only come to own the farm as a result of an unlikely wager, made a generation before with the wealthy landowner nearby. The current squire (John Askew again, both hippy-ish and menacing) would like to reclaim the farm, and this tension runs throughout the play: the Harrisons hanging on with grim tenacity as their fortunes wane and ebb.

When the squire buys an agricultural feed company, and the family sells off the field where they have grown their own animal feed, we know the die is cast.

As the decades pass – from 1914 right up to 2005 – and characters age and falter before our eyes, our sympathies for the Harrisons can only grow. To watch Harvest is to see a family photo album brought to life. For those disconnected from the land, there’s plenty to learn about farming too in this fine and thought-provoking production.

Harvest runs at the Yvonne Arnaud until Saturday October 14. See

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