Theatre Review - The Corn is Green

Dominic Cooke’s buoyant production of Emlyn Williams’ play is unashamedly feel-good theatre. First produced at the Duchess Theatre in 1938, The Corn is Green’s themes may feel dated but this revival is utterly absorbing.

Set in the  last years of the 19th century, an English woman Miss Moffat (Nicola Walker) arrives in a small Welsh village determined to set up a school and educate the illiterate local miners. She meets with opposition. The squire (Rufus Wright) doesn’t see the point, while the tavern is worried about losing business.

Moffat manages to get it off the ground helped by two of her neighbours with time on their hands – Miss Ronberry (Alice Orr-Ewing) and Mr Jones (Richard Lynch).

Her main protégé is Morgan Evans (Iwan Davies) who she coaches privately so that he can sit the Oxford University scholarship exam. Her iron will reaps rewards.

Moffat exhibits something of a middle-class saviour complex, at one point referring to Evans as her “pit pony”, and he starts to question whether he really wants an education and his identity erased. Then her housekeeper’s wilful daughter, Bessie (Saffron Coomber), seduces Evans and threatens to derail the whole project.

It’s beautifully staged. Cooke has Williams (Gareth David-Lloyd), the playwright, present throughout, typing the scenes, directing the action and intervening when events threaten to go awry. This reminds us that The Corn is Green is semi-autobiographical – the programme notes reveal that Williams was inspired by a French teacher who nurtured his academic aspirations.

The first half is largely played out on a bare stage with minimal props and we have to imagine Miss Moffat’s enviable library, doors opening and closing and cups of tea being proffered (aided by Christopher Shutt’s imaginative sound design) but in the second half, ULTZ’s detailed set provides a naturalistic setting.

The performances are sublime, but the highlight of the evening is the miners’ choir who watch the action and punctuate the drama with stunning harmonies.

Until June 11

Originally published by Camden New Journal