Writer/Lyricist: Amanda Whittington
Composer/Co-Lyricist: Greg Last
Director: Gitika Buttoo
The remarkable Mikron Theatre Company, now 51 years old, is celebrated for staging its shows wherever an audience can be found: unlikely venues appear throughout the programme. This performance in a famed fish restaurant began with fish and chips all round and the first thing to be said is they were excellent! Punters wishing to see the show (or its first-class fellow-traveller Twitchers) have plenty of opportunities without the expense of a fish supper, both before they take to the rivers and canals at the end of May and during a midsummer break.
Describing what Mikron does with enormous panache is difficult. Two playwrights are commissioned to write new plays, generally on British institutions, some seven or eight songs are added and four talented young actor-musicians make the whole thing work; they also have to operate the narrowboat Tyseley– one wonders what Dame Edith Evans would think of it all!
There is no such thing as a bad Mikron production, but in truthA Force to be Reckoned Withis a tad disappointing. With such an experienced and successful writer as Amanda Whittington in charge one might have expected a bit more substance. The theme is police women, the time early 1950s. PC Iris Armstrong (Hannah Baker) is assigned to a West Riding station, full of earnest principles and with a manner that initially recalls Joyce Grenfell in the St. Trinian’s films. The local sergeant (Harvey Badger) is helpful, but can’t escape the odd touches of prejudice; Eddie Ahrens, a constable, is rather more open. Then the unconventional livewire, the only woman previously at the station, Ruby (Rachel Hammond), puts in a dramatic appearance and a friendship is sealed.
It is Mikron’s habit to fill out the history of the institution, but this is done in a somewhat perfunctory manner, though the final song looks forward optimistically. Instead there are all sorts of little scenes, many inconclusive, including the station’s turn at the Benevolent Fund Concert. In fairness this reviewer may have missed some of the subtler humour. The programme refers to playful nods to Juliet Bravo, The Gentle Touch andCagney & Lacey.Never having seen any of these must be a disadvantage!
Ahrens, Badger, Baker and Hammond change costume, accent and even (in the case of the chaps) gender in a gloriously energetic performance that even extends to selling raffle tickets and programmes. Ahrens, with the least to do with his main character, excels as a posh lady shoplifter. Best of all, their prowess on hastily seized saxophone or accordion or trumpet is remarkable – which is where we come to the outstanding merit of the show, the songs. Greg Last combines with Whittington (arrangements by Dan McGlade) to produce a range of cracking songs, spread around the supremely able cast: hints of George Formby and rhythm and blues and a delightfully affecting “Songbird” to an abandoned baby, all sung and performed with all the attack or subtlety one could wish for.
Even when one is mildly disappointed, a Mikron show is a special event, leaving you anxious to catch next year’s shows:Radical and Rebel – Jennie Lee anyone?
Reviewed on 18th May 2023. Touring nationwide.