Sunday, 18 August 2019

Narrowboat dramas offer us the very best of British

Narrowboat dramas offer us the very best of British

A THEATRE company that famously tours the country in a vintage narrowboat is bringing two new shows to Henley, Benson and Goring this month.

Established in 1972 and now in their 48th year of touring, Mikron’s motto is: “Theatre anywhere for everyone by canal, river and road.”

The company visits South Oxfordshire on a yearly basis, usually performing two new shows each time, and has previously staged shows sponsored by the Henley Allotments Association.

This year’s shows are the Butlin’s holiday camp drama Redcoats, and the Second World War-set All Hands On Deck, which navigates a love story between the Royal Navy and their loyal “Jenny Wrens”.

Having proved a firm favourite with audiences over the years, Mikron’s touring productions are renowned for having a “very British” theme of one sort or another and for being informative, dramatic and musically jam-packed.

A spokesman for the company said: “Redcoats follows Mikron’s radiant redcoats as they guide you through 80 years of Billy Butlin’s holiday camps.

“Billy Butlin used Shakespeare himself to sell a seaside dream to the great British public.

“Join Mikron as they delve into holiday huts and bonny baby contests with guest appearances from Marlene Dietrich, Gracie Fields and Laurel and Hardy.

“Watch Mikron celebrate Butlin’s splendour with their trademark mix of fun, pathos and songs.”

Redcoats is the work of Nick Ahad, a playwright, journalist and broadcaster on BBC Radio Leeds who as an infant won a bonny baby competition at Butlin’s in Skegness, where his family holidayed throughout his childhood.

Nick is no stranger to writing, but this is his first play for Mikron and he says he has loved getting his feet wet down at the seaside.

“I bet lots of people have happy memories of Butlin’s,” he said. “But I bet none of them have memories of going to the same Butlin’s 14 years in a row! I do — and not once did I mind. Loved it, in fact.

“Some of my happiest memories were created in that seaside haven in the Eighties and early Nineties. What a delight it’s been to revisit those memories while writing Redcoats.

“What sums Butlin’s up for me? We were a mixed-race working-class family from Keighley and when I went to Butlin’s in Skegness, I felt like the richest person in the world.”

Nick was commissioned to write Redcoats by Marianne McNamara, Mikron’s artistic director, who said: “This play is great fun and that’s what the real-life redcoats were there to do — encourage fun. It’s been a joy to research this play. Billy Butlin was such an ambitious fellow and he made holidays possible for so many. British holidays where you could shelter from the rain, swim, laugh and relax. Perfect.”

The show’s director Jonny Kelly, who last year directed suffragette drama Revolting Women, added: “It’s a pleasure to be back with Mikron for my second season, I know audiences will love the show — it’s full of humour, history and seaside shenanigans!”

The second show on the roster, All Hands On Deck, introduces us to new WRNS recruits Ginger and Lily, who are on the lookout for wartime adventure.

The Mikron spokesman said: “Lily wants to serve on dry land but Ginger is desperate to serve at sea — and the sailors can’t believe their luck! Our Wrens show pays tribute to all those wartime women who pushed the door to opportunity firmly open. Full of dots, dashes, semaphore and song, Ginger and Lily find themselves in uncharted waters on a journey they’ll never forget.”

The show was written by former Mikron actor Vashti Maclachlan, who also penned Revolting Women.

He said: “It’s been a pleasure to write again for Mikron in its 48th year and an honour to shine a spotlight on the tireless women who gave their all to shape a Women’s Royal Navy Service fit for the future.”

Marianne McNamara, who directs All Hands On Deck, added: “I’ve always been interested in the Wrens. They’ve been suggested as an interesting subject matter by a number of audience members who were related to Wrens. There are plenty plays about the war but not that many that explore women’s contributions to the war. It’s been fascinating to research their story and to celebrate their endeavours.”

Redcoats is being performed at the Eyot Centre in Wargrave Road, Henley, next Thursday (July 18) at 7.30pm — but the gates will be open from 6pm for picnics. Tickets will take the form of a cash collection on the night.

Local organiser Dave McEwen said: “Do come and bring family and friends for a fun evening with this talented original company.”

For more information, call (01491) 578658 or email davemcewen@btinternet.com

Then the following Thursday (July 25) both shows are being staged at the Waterfront Café in Benson — All Hands On Deck at 3.30pm and Redcoats at 8pm.

Tickets for both shows are £8 to £12 and can be booked by calling (01491) 835631 or visiting www.waterfrontcafe.co.uk

Then on Friday, July 26, All Hands On Deck is being performed at Goring Lock at 7.30pm. A cash collection will be taken on the night. For more information, call 01484 843701.

Trailers for both shows are available to view on Mikron’s YouTube channel. Alternatively, visit www.mikron.org.uk/shows

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