Now here’s a novelty, Mikron Theatre Company performing in a real theatre! They normally put on their shows in the most unlikely places such as allotments, museums (should that be musea?), pubs, village halls, allotments and even a lifeboat station. I have seen two of their productions before, one in a working men’s club (the wonderful Slung Low at Holbeck WMC) and the other in a fish and chip restaurant (The Wetherby Whaler at Guiseley).
For anyone who doesn’t know, the company is based on a narrowboat at Marsden near Huddersfield and they chug around the country performing as they go, hence the eclectic mix of venues. There does seem to be an inordinate number of licensed premises involved although I am sure that this is only because they are the only suitable spaces which abut canals.
Mikron takes the travelling theatre back to its roots when covered wagons would pull up in various villages and perform for the locals who would otherwise never get to see any live entertainment other than the odd ritual demise of a witch or two. Fortunately we all survived the trip to the mean streets of Bingley and even the trains ran on time – obviously some witchcraft at work there.
As with the other two productions I have seen, the play was centred on the history of a national institution, this time, rather than being the Women’s Institute or the Met Office, it was the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). It was a kind of musical Horrible Histories with lots of facts intertwined with the comedy and songs.
The cast; l to r Hannah Baker, Eddie Ahrens, Harvey Badger and Rachel Hammond
Even though birds’ names give comedy writers a head start what with the chuffs, shags, thrush and tits, the script and lyrics by Poppy Hollman, although taking full advantage, were very witty rather than crude, and hilarious from start to finish, except for a couple of ‘preachy bits’ to reinforce the message of how so many of our feathered friends are under threat from, not only climate change, but also the destruction of their natural habitats and the pollution of rivers and streams. The music was composed by Amal El-Sawad and provided a great range of styles to the songs. I particularly enjoyed the mash-up of genres in the first piece after the interval which picked up the story of the RSPB decade by decade from the war to date, so we began with an Andrews Sisters vibe (look them up on YouTube, Millennials – you’re welcome), went through Rock’n’Roll and on to Motown, Krautrock etc. There was also a pastiche on the cartoon film Penguins which was hilarious.
The cast showing their musical skills. Harvey Badger – guitar, Hannah Baker – trumpet, Eddie Ahrens – accordion and Rachel Hammond – saxophone.
The history of the organisation was told in flashbacks with the core present day story of the imminent arrival of Chris Packham and the Springwatch team to set up their cameras at the Shrikewing branch of the RSPB. The Mayor wanted the place cleaning up and brought a strimmer to do the job, until she was told that that would destroy the plant and insect life vital for the birds’ survival. Thus the two sides of the conservation battle were embodied.
The first flashback, indicated by a change of headwear, took us back to the setting up of the Society by Emily Williamson, Eliza Phillips and Etta Lemon in 1889. The reason they were all women is that none of the other ornithological organisations allowed female members so they set up their own. If you can’t join ’em beat ’em!
It was interesting to learn how the RSPB changed from protecting endangered species by keeping their whereabouts secret, to setting up reserves where vantage points were created so that the public could see the birds without getting close enough to become a threat.
The birds’ point of view, was put forward by a couple of rooks who couldn’t believe their luck at finding such a great place to live, an attitude which began to change as the Mayor started to implement her clean-up campaign. They had a meeting of their parliament (the collective name for rooks and crows) and came up with a strategy which resulted in the mayoral sports car needing a thorough valeting after she left the top down exposing the interior to a campaign of ‘dive bombing’ by the birds.
Harvey Badger, Eddie Ahrens, Rachel Hammond and Hannah Baker causing a rook-us!
As you would imagine, all ends well with the expected arrival of migrating turtle doves just as the Sprigwatch team drove into the car park. There was the obvious caveat that unless humans cleaned up their act, literally, this would not continue.
Because of the peripatetic nature of the Mikron Theatre Company the set and props are kept to a minimum, which enhances the work rather than detracts from it thanks to the ingenuity of Set and Costume Designer Celia Perkins. The only scenery being a wooden wall with a couple of openings, allowing the actors to deliver some of their lines through them and make a quick change of costume. The creative use of gloves and headwear help represent various birds.
The Musical Director and Arranger, Rebekah Hughes and Director Marianne McNamara complete the list of creatives, all of whom excelled themselves.
If they excelled themselves then the cast took that one step further, which is why I have left them until last. There are four actors who take the parts of about a dozen humans and even more birds, as well as playing a variety of musical instruments. The amazing thing is that they are all making their first appearances for Mikron, not only that but two of them were making their debut in any kind of theatrical production. They were all superb. The way they handled various accents, both regional and class-based was brilliant as was their comic timing and interpretation of our feathered friends.
Because of the range of roles I can only list them, so thank you; Eddie Ahrens, Harvey Badger, Hannah Baker and Rachel Hammond for providing such a special evening.
As my regular readers will know, it is not often I venture out of Leeds in order to review theatrical productions so I would just like to mention the Bingley Little Theatre, part of the Arts Centre on Main Street. It lives up to its name being a wonderfully intimate space whilst not feeling claustrophobic. The rows of seats are steeply tiered to provide a good view, although a petite writing colleague who was seated behind a particularly tall chap had to move to an adjacent empty seat in order to get a better view. I am sure this is the exception rather than the norm. She was fortunate in that there was an empty seat as the audience seemed to be almost at capacity.
So, if you would like to see Twitchers then please go to https://www.mikron.org.uk/ where you will find a constantly increasing list of dates. You will also be able to book the other play in their 2023 season, A Force to be Reckoned With which I am looking forward to seeing next month. While you are there you might like to take a look at the history of the company.
To read more about Bingley Little Theatre and to see what is coming up please visit https://www.bingleyartscentre.co.uk/
All photographs by Robling Photography