DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

In at the Deep End – Square Chapel, Halifax

Writer: Laurence Peacock

Director: Stefan Escreet

Composer/Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes

Designer: Kate Morton

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

More often encountered in such settings as allotments and fish restaurants, it was slightly unusual to see Mikron in action in a raked auditorium with stage lighting. The company’s tour of In at the Deep End will be officially launched at Scarborough Lifeboat Station later in May, but this first performance was in a more orthodox performance space far inland.

Mikron’s productions are a winning mixture of the novel and the familiar. They are all definitively about something – this year the two plays are devoted to the YHA and the RNLI – and, with writers researching the subject thoroughly, audiences actually learn something new. The formula for putting this across is usually a straightforward modern story, often of a problem solved, with plenty of opportunities to segue into a chunk of history, maybe a touch of controversy, and certainly plenty of catchy self-accompanied songs. The key requirement, therefore, is four actors versatile enough to switch character, accent, period and – if need by – gender While doubling on various instruments. 

The modern-day story in In at the Deep End combines two inter-linked problems. Darren, the RNLI coxswain, is a grumpy perfectionist, incapable of praise or apology, who has driven his crew into timid revolt (finding excuses to be somewhere else). His relationship with his apparently feckless son, Billy, has also broken down, but he is forced by dwindling numbers to recruit Billy into the crew. The arrival of a new recruit, female, talented and super-keen, appears to make things worse, but eventually, she and a well-timed rescue help the station’s fundraiser to save the day for both the lifeboat crew and the father-son relationship.

The history of the RNLI – dating back nearly 200 years – comes complete with nicely caricatured arguments about whose idea it was and a rather elaborate comedy song about the first inventors of lifeboats and progressive improvements in design, but the tone of the play is overall somewhat more serious than the typical Mikron fare. This is, after all, a matter of life and death and several songs deal with rescues, often reverently, though Mayday, the opening number, is a jolly tribute to “heroes in wellies”.

Laurence Peacock’s script, aided by Stefan Escreet’s no-nonsense direction, covers a lot of ground at a brisk trot. Craig Anderson, James McLean, Rose McPhilemy and Claire-Marie Seddon form a well-balanced acting company, establish instant rapport with the audience and excel musically, not only vocally, with some admirable a cappella singing, but instrumentally. It’s all part of the Mikron style that, when the crew is called out on a “shout”, they reach first for their oilskins, next for a trumpet or trombone! Rebekah Hughes’ clever arrangements make the most of her songs – from music hall patter to solemn anthem – and the evocative finale, Phil Coulter’s Home from the Sea.

Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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