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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Mikron Theatre

“It is that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith.” ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English lyrical Poet, Critic and Philosopher
    Most boaters have at least a passing knowledge of the smallest national theatrical touring group Mikron Theatre so bear with me while I provide some information to our readers who have never heard of the floating theatre group.
   Mikron (pronounced Mick-ron) whose statement of purpose is to bring "theatre anywhere, for everyone by canal, river and road," began life 43 years ago after Mike (Mick) Lucas, Sarah Cameron, and Ron Legge took a show to the Edinburgh Festival in 1963. The name is a play on their names and also is Greek for small, which exactly fits this four person traveling cast.
NB Tyseley, Mikron's floating home for the summer season
   Over the years Mikron has moved from bringing theatre to unusual venues by road, to buying NB Tyseley in 1975 and traveling the Canal system over the summer bringing waterways specific plays and other programs based on all things British.
   This bijou jewel in the Crown of British stage has existed long enough now for me to say Mikron theatre is well on its way to becoming another very fine British tradition, whose traveling actors are supported off stage by eight very talented individuals who take turns with stage direction, musical direction, booking tours, costume and stage design. In addition, there is also a skilled mechanic who keeps NB Tysley up to snuff for travel.
© 2014, Mikron Theatre Co.
   Patrons of Mikron are listed in the programme as author and activist George Monbiot, the fascinating peer Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales. The Mikron cast and crew are supported by community charitable donations large and small.
   Once the year's themes are decided, playwrights begin working on creating material, members of the crew solicit public funding, and tour dates and support are arranged for Mikron's annual tour.
   Next year's shows will feature plays on the W.I. (Women's Institute) and Fish and Chips! It really doesn't get much more British does it??
   This season's plays concern WWI in honor of its centenary year in Troupers, and British dairy involving a well known and loved past Mikron theatrical character Harvey Granelli in Till the Cows Come Home.
   The Slow Food Movement is providing part of this season's support of the latter production; The YMCA, The Imperial War Museum WWI Centenary Partnership, and Kirklees WWI is supporting the production of Troupers
   On a personal note, Les has wanted to attend a Mikron theatre production for nine years but he was invariably at one end of the canal system when Mikron was at the other end. Finally we were actually in the right place at the right time and that is due in huge part to our lovely friend Anonymous Angela whom we visited while moored up in Berkhamstead several weeks ago. It was she who told us NB Tyseley and the Mikron cast were on their way south from Braunston. So thank you very much dear friend for helping Les to achieve an earnest desire after so long!
   Tuesday evening was lovely; the golden sun shone, a light breeze ruffled the leaves on the cut, and soft high clouds provided a momentary respite from the heat. We were moored up three hundred or so feet from the Grand Junction Arms pub. NB Tyseley had come up the Marsworth lock flight earlier in the afternoon, mooring up in front of the pub's grassy outdoor eating area. 
© 2014, Mikron Theatre Co.
   Les and I moseyed down the towpath, and chose a picnic table just to the right of center stage as the actors set up their props in front if us. We ordered burgers, fries, and drinks, settling in as others joined us on the lawn waiting for the production to start.
   Troupers showcases the story of Lena Ashwell, (1872-1957), a British stage actress and stage manager. In 1908 she founded the Actresses Franchise League to promote equal pay and better conditions for women in theatre. 
   In 1914 Ashwell put together Concerts at the Front, bringing entertainment to British Tommies and a few hours of respite from the grim realities of war, which the British aristocracy who essentially ran the country assumed would be over soon. They were famous for saying, "We'll rout the Hun and be home before Christmas." 880,000 British men, 200,000 allied troops and 6 millions Russian Soldiers died in the "war to end all wars." One million eight hundred and eight German soldiers died as well...
   While the YMCA, who assisted Lena and her troupe in accessing the soldiers in Malta, Palestine, Egypt and France, had concerns about bringing women to war zones, the soldiers loved the slice of every day British life and laughter the traveling thespians provided. 
  As we we finished our meal, pub tables filled, and folks still came along with lawn chairs and blankets. Everyone settled in as the show began. The four actors played a host of characters with a minimal amount of props and immense talent.
   While there were plenty of laughs provided throughout the play, there were grim reminders of the cost of war as the four main characters set aside their troupers' straw hats and donned the metal Brodie Helmets worn by the soldiers. Then they turned and recited some of the unrelenting horrors Ashwell's thespians saw first hand on their tours, ending with "This letter wont' get past the censors; but I just had to write it down..."
This season's esteemed Mikron Traveling Theatre group.
   With splendid comedic timing and great depth of talent these four actors carried us from the grassy lawn of the Grand Junction Arms Pub in 2014 to the British music halls and front line horrors of World War One. Many in the audience had tears in their eyes at the end and I was no exception. 
   With great skill Nicholas Couto-Langmead, Jill Myers, John Holt-Roberts, and Esther-Grace Button eased us one and all into the suspension of disbelief, while singing, dancing, and playing a host of musical instruments. Jill Myers embouchure on trumpet is divine; the hairs on my arms stood at attention along with the countless soldiers answering the trumpet's call. If you only see one play this year, make it Mikron theatre's Troupers. You will never forget it.
   Les took some video and spliced it together. It begins with The Bugle Song: a quick call to arms in 1914; the young thespian Pandora attempting to charm snakes and Lena Ashwell as her audition for the troupe goes awry; a young well known daughter of theatrical parents treats Ashwell and her Scottish protege--a soldier who has been remitted on medical cause, but who has a voice like an angel--to tea after nearly running them over in a stolen car and astounds them with her definition of low brow, middle brow, and high brow theatre; Tonight We Laugh tells the story of how the troupers will bring music and a few minutes of happiness to the troops. Here it is then...

10 comments:

Working Narrow Boat Hadar said...

I started on canals the same year as the Mikron theatre group. Keith.

Mikron Office said...

Thank you so much for this, love the Mikron team x

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Keith,
Hope you are healing well and feeling better with each passing day. Hard to believe a youngster like yourself started on the cut so long ago! How time flies.
Hugs,
JaqXX

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Dear Mikron Team,
We are chuffed to bits you found our blog! I've posted a link to this post on my FaceBook page and sent out an email to all our friends.
You are most welcome! Thank you for a rousing evening or great entertainment.
Jaqueline

Anonymous said...

Our paths crossed with Mikron years ago - we were so impressed with the players (though not with the play they were doing at the time) - the mixture of talent as actors & musicians,and hard work to move & maintain Tyseley was prodigious :-)

Sue, nb Indigo Dream

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clip...t'other play was equally as good - and very 'on trend' with food message....!! At last I am uplifting a dreary Monday evening not on the allotment...!! xxA

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hello Sue,
Yes, NB Tyseley is a beautiful boat. I covet their sliding bow door! It's a brilliant bit of kit.
Hugs to you and Richard,
JaqXX

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Angela,
So glad we could provide you with some fun respite from communing with nature at your allotment. Have you whipped it into shape now?
Big hugs!
JaqXX

Mikron Office said...

We'd love to use some of this in our friends newsletter, hope you don't mind!

Les Biggs said...

Mikron
You are most welcome.
Les&Jaq

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs