“Farm Boy” is a sweet show, but it comes to the Brits Off Broadway festival with marketing issues. Heart-warming two-hander about the deep bond between an old farmer and his grandson was adapted from a story by children’s author Michael Morpurgo, who claims it to be a sequel to “War Horse,” for which he also provided the source material. In your dreams, people. This gorgeously acted story-theater piece has its own modest charms, but auds expecting to see more of Joey, the farm horse who distinguished himself in that magnificent Tony Award-winning show, will be sorely disappointed.
John Walters (Grandfather) and Richard Pryal (Grandson) are both mesmerizing storytellers, entrusted by adapter-director Daniel Buckroyd to convince us that the featureless stage is a sprawling family farm in the English countryside. With only an ancient tractor (a stylized work of folk art crafted by Tim Brierley and Susan Winters) and Mark Dymock’s dreamy lighting to establish the bucolic setting, thesps’ hypnotic voices are enough to create the illusion of a working farm teeming with life.
Joey the war horse does figure in the story, in the sense that the old Grandfather remembers the horse that his father, the boy Albert in “War Horse,” brought home to the farm from the battlefields of France at the end of World War I. But Joey is not a true presence in the narrative, not even in the scene when the old man’s old man nearly works him to death in a plowing competition with a tractor.
As remembered by Grandfather (and played by Walters with an iron will, but heartbreaking physical fragility), the aged Albert has more full-bodied dimension. It’s a subtle thing, but when Pryal portrays the Grandfather as a young man, it’s only a slight variation on his warm portrayal of the Grandson. On the other hand, when Walters plays his character’s father Albert as an old man, an entirely different character comes alive.
It’s in their original roles, though, rather than in the flashier transformation scenes, that Pryal and Walters are truly simpatico. And when Grandfather and Grandson finally forge their bond on a project that transcends the generations, it’s enough to move an audience to tears.