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Pure – Scarcroft Allotments, York

Writer: Richard Vergette

Director: Stefan Escreet

Composer: Rebekah Hughes

Designer: Kate Morton

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

What is there not to like about a theatre company who bring original plays to allotments, village greens, pub gardens, and tearooms? A company who calls on their versatile and hard-working team of actors to accompany songs with aswanee whistle, melodica, kazoo, and ukulele as well as more conventional instruments such as trombone, saxophone, and clarinet, plus eccentric percussion and Foley effects? Yes, Mikron Theatre Company is back, limbering up for its summer tour of the waterways with a sizeable and enthusiastic audience in York’s Scarcroft Allotments.

“Unique” is often used for things that are no more than remarkable, but Mikron is unique. This is the company’s 45th summer tour of the waterways, the performers travelling in the narrowboat Tyseley and performing two newly written plays, each with a theme set by the company, from early June to early September. Unfortunately, the tour gets very little further North than Nottingham, but later in September Mikron returns to York with Canary Girls, about female munitions workers in World War One.

Richard Vergette’s subject in Pure is chocolate and, typically for Mikron, he looks to combine a bit of history with a modern story, laughs, songs and a strong appeal to conscience. Kreation Foods from the United States have taken over the old established British firm, Plumstead’s, and plan to re-launch the Plumstead’s Pure chocolate bar. Do they have plans to abandon the old ethical working practices or even close the British operation? At the same time Faye and Tarquin, young employees, try to push Kreation into adopting Fair Trade status for Plumstead’s Pure. Vergette intertwines the story of the original Quaker owner, Mr. Plumstead, and the young inventor, John Jordan, ingeniously with the modern story.

Ingenious it may be, however, the first half feels too laboured and wordy. It is also, in Stefan Escreet’s direction, too static, though that may have been due to the uneven surface. There are good things in it, not least the songs, a couple of jaunty numbers plus La Cote d’Ivoire, sung by Matt Jopling, melodically appealing and unexpectedly thought-provoking. James McLean works hard as the American trouble-shooter, as does Stephanie Hackett as the dim Yorkshire marketing manager, but the characters remain earth-bound stereotypes. Claire Burns’ Faye is animated and principled, but Jopling is the only one to have a distinctive character in the modern story and his goofily intelligent Tarquin has to repeat the same two gags too often: verbosity and apology.

For all that, Pure is immensely likeable and it is a delight when it takes off after the interval. The songs (music by Rebekah Hughes), always good, go up a notch, with The Chocolate Machine Song a real show-stopper. The audience-friendly James McLean gets his teeth into the character of Plumstead and suffers a satisfying comeuppance as the American executive. The Victorian story hits the right tone, with Stephanie Hackett seizing her chance as a gin-sodden aunt. Jopling and Burns have a smart double act and he has the final moment of glory as a moustachioed deus ex machina.

Touring nationwide | Image:Peter Boyd

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. 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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