When I got notice of this event, I thought all of my birthdays had come at once. Actually, it wasn’t my birthday, but Mikron Theatre Company’s 50th, which was being celebrated with a performance of a new play by Lindsay Rodden called Red Sky At Night. Not only did we get the play but also a fish supper.
I had always thought that The Wetherby Whaler was named after the member of Bob Marley’s band who came from that particular West Yorkshire town but when I saw the way it was spelled I realised my mistake. It is obviously named after the member of Bob Marley’s band who came from Wales. OK, now that I have established the level of humour displayed in the production I can continue.
This is a family show so is aimed at all age groups and, while it could be a bit daft in places, it was very informative and I admit to learning quite a lot about the weather which, being a slave to the forecast to dictate the clothing choice for my daily constitutional, and a listener to the early morning Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 in the shower when I used to get up at daft o’clock to commute to work, I thought that I knew.
Anyway, first things first. We were asked to get to the venue at 6.45pm to be ready for service at 7.00pm at which time we were duly presented with fish, chips, mushy peas, tea, bread and butter. At this point my great friend, who resides in Kentucky and lives on this menu when she is on this side of the pond, will be turning as green as the peas with envy. Sorry Linda, we may have The Wetherby Whaler but you have Cracker Barrel! The scran was wonderful, however I still think that fish and chips in a room with crystal chandeliers is a bit incongruous, but we weren’t here to eat the fixtures and fittings so I can live with it.
For those who are not aware, this is the site of the original Harry Ramsden’s fish restaurant and takeaway, which has now become a global brand having started from humble beginnings as a bog standard fish and chip shop in the 1930s. You can see from the feature photograph, the original clock has been preserved as a reminder, the owner’s moniker handily having twelve letters.
Our appetite for food having been sated but our appetite for culture whetted, we waited for the fun to begin. I recently reviewed a show by Mikron Theatre Company called Raising Agent which celebrated 100 years of the Women’s Institute – please scroll down for the article – Red Sky At Night deals with another national obsession, the weather.
The story of man’s relationship with the meteorological elements was traced from the early crude methods of prediction to the present day when it takes billions of pounds worth of the most advanced technology in order to get it wrong. This was done using a mixture of sketches and songs linked by a storyline concerning a PhD student who gets a work experience placement at a tiny local TV station presenting the weather forecast. She is given the job as her father was a revered television meteorologist, until he was struck by lightning!
Hayley’s career, for that is the name of the girl – Hail(y) Geddit? – gets off to a shaky start but she becomes more confident as time goes on. As well as the straightforward forecast she was supposed to inform the viewers in a bit more detail about the causes of it. Her colleagues are Eileen, meaning ‘brightness or radiance’ prompting her to say that they could call her Sun, and Zeph, short for Zephyr, a discontinued Ford model from the 1960s, sorry, a gentle breeze. The boss was called Nigel, meaning, dark, black and cloud. They didn’t just throw this piece together you know. I wish they had, it would have saved me ages looking everything up!
Any road up, we follow the the story via the balloonists, Glaisher and Coxwell, who nearly died when they took their craft to almost 37,000ft to study the weather. The temperature was below freezing and the oxygen level falling, which caused them to plummet to the ground but they managed to get the balloon under control and have just a minor crash.
There was also the story of Francis Beaufort who devised the method for categorising wind speeds which bears his name. This was an essential element in assisting sailors to avoid storms at sea. The numbers are still used in the Shipping Forecast, although I was only ever concerned about the temperature of the water in my shower.
A fascinating fact I gleaned from the play was that the Shipping Forecast was first compiled by a chap called Captain Fitzroy. The areas around the British Isles were given names to localise the forecast, a few of which had changed since I used to listen to it as a kid getting ready for school. It was on the Home Service somewhat later in those days. North Utsire and South Utsire were new and Finisterre (the end of the world) had disappeared. I don’t know if the latter was too doom-laden but it has now been changed to Fitzroy, after the man himself. Nice touch. I still have my doubts about Dogger though!
Please don’t let all this nerdery put you off, the whole thing is handled with a great deal of humour and pathos, underlined by a love story. The songs are fun, you can’t beat a trombone for adding humour, actually you can’t beat one at all, you blow down it. The enthusiasm of the cast; Hannah Bainbridge as Hayley, Alice McKenna as Eileen, Thomas Cotran as Zeph and James McLean as Nigel, as well as their instrumental and acting talent made the whole thing a joy. I did detect more than a hint of Horrible Histories about it, high praise indeed. The Director was Marianne McNamara, Designer Celia Perkins, the music was composed by Sonum Batra. The Musical Director and Arranger was Rebekah Hughes.
For a list of tour dates please go to https://www.mikron.org.uk/tour_dates After a few more shows in Yorkshire they take to the canals of the Midlands and Deep South, but keep scrolling down the gigs as they sporadically break off to do the odd one up north, before ending the season with a few more back in civilisation. You really should try to get to one if you can, you will never learn as much from a daft night again. PS they return to The Wetherby Whaler on 20th September which, coincidentally, is my birthday, although I am afraid I can’t run to haddock and chips for everyone. Book your table and plaice your order now. Cod almighty!