Writer and Lyricist: Poppy Hollman
Director: Rachel Gee
Composer/MD: Rebekah Hughes
As restrictions ease, theatre companies return to their accustomed venues – so that means Mikron Theatre Company at Scarcroft Allotments! Only someone unfamiliar with Mikron’s work would question the juxtaposition of theatre and allotments. Each year this remarkable company packs four actor/musicians into a van – or, for much of the tour, a narrowboat – and tours two original plays to pub gardens, boatyards, cricket grounds, village greens and allotments, plus allowing in the odd theatre on sufferance.
The idea each year is to celebrate two British institutions, from fish and chips to the National Health Service, in song-filled, generally light-hearted plays that combine bits of history with a fictional story, usually contemporary and comical, and whatever else the playwright is tempted to throw in. One of 2021’s chosen topics is the British love of dogs, centred on Crufts.
After the opening fairground barker number (Roll Up, Roll Up to Crufts!), we encounter Rachel Benson as Linda with her rescue dog Gary looking for Scrufts (the main show’s scruffier cousin), James McLean and Elizabeth Robin camping it up like mad as co-owners of a Pomeranian bitch with aspirations to Best in Show, and Thomas Cotran as Daniel, an animal rights protester in a dog suit.
All these will figure largely in the show, especially Gary who unmasks the villain in an amiably unlikely story – pretty good work for an empty collar inclined to “drag” Rachel Benson at high speed through the audience. However, Benson, McLean, Robin and Cotran’s night’s work has hardly begun with those four characters. Apart from playing at least two musical instruments each and singing very serviceably, they take on character after character, canine as well as human, briefly even feline. McLean probably gets the best deal: not many actors get the chance to be Charles Cruft and Barbara Woodhouse in the same evening – and he plays the villain, too!
If anything, Poppy Hollman slightly overdoes the constant role-changing and the play would be better ten minutes shorter, with fewer extraneous scenes. Only the scattily devoted Linda and, to an extent, the hapless geek Daniel and a rather nice old man (McLean again!) register as real people, but the compensation is delight at the unending versatility of the performers, everything delivered with a joyful aplomb that is far more precise than it pretends to be.
The cast’s ingenuity is matched by that of Celia Perkins’ costumes, colourful and appropriate, designed for instant change. Rebekah Hughes once again supplies the sounds and songs of Mikron and Rachel Gee’s direction gleefully animates the canine carousel.
Year on year Mikron highlights British institutions. 2022, the company’s 50th year, would be a good year to turn the spotlight on touring theatre, the sort of fit-up companies that fetch up in small towns and villages, do their own publicity and front of house, put on a professional show, have a drink in the pub, then fade away into who knows where – in Mikron’s case, onto their narrowboat Tyseley and on to the next gig.