DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Red Sky at Night/Raising Agents – Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writers: Lindsay Rodden/Maeve Larkin

Directors: Marianne McNamara/Rachel Gee

Somehow it never seems right to review Mikron Theatre in an actual theatre – chip shops, youth hostels and allotments are more their thing – but in compensation the Lawrence Batley Theatre offered the chance to see both plays in one day.

Two original plays a year – complete with songs and performed by the same cast of four – tour the waterways of England for four months each year, with a series of dates not too far from the company’s home in Marsden at the beginning and end of the season. This, amazingly, is Mikron’s 50th anniversary!

The plays all deal with some familiar feature of British life, managing to link in a jolly homely tale with a survey of the history and social impact of, say, lifeboats or suffragettes – or weather, as in Red Sky at Night. Alice McKenna, as the rainbow-clad spirit of the weather or some such, starts things off, but soon we focus on Hayley, beautifully played by Hannah Bainbridge, the intellectual PhD (nearly) in Meteorological History who becomes a sensation on television because of her gaucheness before the cameras.

James McLean is the affected television producer, Thomas Cotran the dogged camera man and Alice McKenna as “Eileen” shows up in all kinds of roles as the history of weather forecasting gets a brisk going-over: McLean, for instance, enjoying himself mightily as such luminaries as Captain Fitzroy, founder of the Met Office, and Admiral Beaufort, he of the scale!

The songs by Sonum Batra work perfectly (Forever, the Weather and Nobody Owns the Skies particularly pleasing) in Mikron musical director Rebekah Hughes’ arrangements for voices, trombone, flute, piccolo, saxophone, clarinet, accordion, guitar, ukulele and assorted percussion – the instrumental range of these actor musicians never fails to astonish!

The final remarkable thing about Red Sky at Night is that, light-hearted as it is, it hits home with its serious message in two ways. The foreground story, as Hannah relates more to people, becomes as moving as it is comical and, most important of all, the message in regard to climate change is spelt out as powerfully as you could wish, if fairly briefly.

The advantage of seeing Raising Agents, about the Women’s Institute and earlier reviewed at the Square Chapel, Halifax, is that you can see the skill with which the productions are geared to performance in a wind-swept field by a canal. Celia Perkins’ designs, for instance: basically a central object (village hall, whimsical weather design) with a raised step and rows of musical instruments on each side, crazily inventive costumes alongside the everyday. The scripts, merging history and fiction, and the direction, astonishingly precise in the circumstances, are both clearly out of the same bag.

Incidentally, Raising Agents is, for once, a repeat of a previous show from 2015, but no matter – it, too, is huge fun, with Alice McKenna determined to give the Bunnington WI a make-over, Hannah Bainbridge determined to resist, great songs from O’Hooley and Tidow, and Thomas Cotran and James McLean having a wonderful time in drag. The message comes through loud and clear again.

In just over a week Mikron takes to the water, but September and October bring a fresh crop of Yorkshire bookings. Anyone wishing to see a unique Yorkshire company in action should check the Autumn dates at Tolson Museum, Wetherby Whaler or Bingley Arts Centre or wherever else.

Reviewed on 21st May 2022. Touring nationwide.

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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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