Writer: Deborah McAndrew
Director: Barrie Rutter
Reviewer: Ruth Lovett
This uplifting yet tragic tale is set against the outbreak of World War One and its eventual effect on a small Lancashire mill town; steeped in tradition where the locals work hard but also know how to celebrate when the opportunity arises.
Membership of the local Morris Men side is almost a vocation for some of the villagers. Rehearsals are compulsory and very important as they lead up to the premier event of the year; the annual Rushcart Festival. Donning beautifully decorated hats adorned with locally grown flowers and wearing their best clogs; the men craft what looks like a huge hay cart covered in rushes from the local moors with a saddle on top waiting for the jockey – Herbert Tweddle (Mark Thomas) to take his seat as the car is pulled through the local villages by the Morris Men dancing their unique dances for all and sundry to enjoy. Lead by the squire John Farrar (Barrie Rutter); the men take huge pride in their skills and enjoy a good simple life away from the mills in Greenmill.
All good Morris sides should contain dancers of all ages and the Greenmill side is no exception. With the presence of young men there is also the presence of young women trying to catch their eye. This leads in to the central love story between young Mary Farrar (Emily Butterfield); the squire’s daughter and young Frank Armitage (Darren Kuppan); a cocky young dancer in the side. As the months progress, the relationship blooms but the threat of war creeps up the valley and becomes more and more real to the villagers.
Act Two is the stronger half and sees more and more of the young men in the village signing up to fight; leaving a depleted Morris side much to the upset of the squire and the older men in the village. The mood of the village changes as the war drags on and the reality of fighting on the Eastern front hits home.
McAndrews’ new play takes its title from Philip Larkin’s poem MCMXIV and fits perfectly the tone of this piece. Under Rutter’s expert direction, this light hearted and entertaining play transforms in to something quite visceral and heart wrenching in a subtle yet effective way. The mood towards the start of the war is depicted well and the change by the end is felt by the audience. The story is fairly standard but it is the simplicity of the back-story that allows the piece to work as well as it does. The Morris dancing has the potential to steal the show as it is performed well and cannot fail to raise a smile. McAndrew’s writing is strong enough to stand alongside this and work in harmony with the dancers.
A perfect show to fit in with the commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War One. In it’s spiritual home of Oldham, Lancashire which includes the villages of Saddleworth; the Coliseum is the perfect setting for this play as many locals are familiar with the annual Rushcart festival that takes place every year in August. Tenderly performed with all the necessary emotion without over egging it; An August Bank Holiday Lark is a real gem.
Runs until Saturday 14 June 2014