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Theatre Review: The Corn is Green is mind-numbingly tedious old hokum

The problem with Emlyn Williams’ story – the talented, impoverished young lad in a mining town being recognised by a plucky teacher – is that it’s been done before and better

Nicola Walker (Miss Moffat) and Iwan Davies (Morgan Evans) in rehearsal for The Corn is Green at the National Theatre (Photograph by Johan Persson)

The Corn is Green

National Theatre, London, until June 11

It used to sadden my old friend, the late Sir Ronald Harwood – who wrote The Dresser, Taking Sides and so many other great plays – that the National never put on anything he’d written.

I can think of a lot of other great talents the National has chosen over the years to ignore, and, while it is important that this of all theatres at least tries to maintain high standards, it means the sense of dismay when it fails to achieve them is all the greater.

Dominic Cooke’s revival of The Corn is Green is a case in point. Not as catastrophic as Christmas disaster Manor, it is still one of those big, long-winded, mind-numbingly tedious productions that no one in the commercial theatre would ever dream of producing, but that seems all the same to regard a big stage at the National as theirs by right.

Emlyn Williams’ drama can scarcely be said to be cutting edge – it was first
performed in the capital in 1938 – but someone at the theatre obviously felt it
was time to do something Welsh again after their production of Under Milk Wood – it didn’t matter what, as clearly it was a box that needed to be ticked.

The problem with Williams’ story – the talented, impoverished young lad in a mining town being recognised by a plucky teacher – is that it’s been done so many times since and more entertainingly, such as in Billy Elliot. Nicola Walker and Iwan Davies – the teacher and her young discovery – go through the motions with a sense of grim determination, but there’s no getting over the fact this is soppy, dated old hokum.

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