CORONAVIRUS: Mikron Theatre cancel Atalanta Forever and A Dog’s Tale tours

Atalanta Forever…but not now for 2020 after Mikron Theatre Company called off the tour of Amanda Whittington’s new play

MIKRON Theatre Company 2020’s tour of Amanda Whittington’s new women’s football play, Atalanta Forever, is off. The referee showing the red card is, inevitably, Coronavirus Pandemic.

The tour would have opened at the National Football Museum, Manchester, on April 18, and waiting in the wings was a June 2 visit to the Marsden travelling players’ regular York idyll of the Scarcroft Allotments, kick-off at 6pm.  

Also falling foul of COVID-19’s Governmental advice to avoid unnecessary social contact is Mikron’s second show of the summer, Poppy Hollman’s new play A Dog’s Tale, a celebration of canines past and present that explores the enduring love between people and their dogs.

This exploration of “the extraordinary world of heroic hounds, pampered pedigrees and naughty nobblers through the halls and history of Crufts” was bound for Clements Hall, York, in the autumn, with a cast of Mikron stalwart James McLean, company newcomer Thomas Cotran and Rachel Benson and Elizabeth Robin from last year’s brace of shows, All Hands On Deck and Redcoats.

In a statement from artistic director Marianne McNamara, producer Pete Toon, general manager Rachel Root, production manager Jo English and the board of trustees, Mikron say: “It is with an extremely heavy hearts that we have to tell you that we are cancelling our 2020 tour.

“We have worked on every possible scenario and this is the only way that we will survive into our 50th year of touring in 2021.

“Our board has a duty of care for our team, venues and Mikron supporters. We want you all to know that we are thinking of you, and indeed everyone who is part of the Mikron family, in these very difficult times.”

Mikron Theatre Company’s summer mode of transport: Tyseley, a vintage narrowboat. Picture: Jon Gascoyne

The statement continues: “If you’ve already booked tickets for our 2020 season – thank you! – we will honour any ticket refunds: just call or email if you would like us to action this.

“Like many theatre lovers across the world, if you feel that you wish to donate your ticket price to help us come back better than ever in 2021, we’d be so very grateful.

“If you haven’t booked, but you were planning on seeing us in 2020, you can support Mikron now in the following ways:

“As a thank you to you all and to cheer your heart, get your Mikron fix in the following ways:

Mikron praise Arts Council England for being “amazing” “They are doing everything they can to assist the arts, museums and libraries. We genuinely would not be here without them today,” they say.

“We have been able to cushion the financial blow for our creative team as much as possible, and we’re planning for next year in the hope that what we collectively do in the coming months gets us there.

Coronavirus-cancelled canine comedy capers: MIkron Theatre Company’s poster for A Dog’s Tale

“If there is anything else we can do for you, please do keep in touch. We may not be out on the road and waterways this year but we’re still very much here for you on email, and at the end of the phone.”

From the writer of Ladies Day, Ladies Day Down Under and Mighty Atoms for Hull Truck Theatre and Bollywood Jane for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Atalanta Forever tells the story of pioneering women footballers in 1920.

In post-war Britain, women’s football is big news. Across the country, all-girl teams are pulling huge crowds in fund-raising games for wounded soldiers.

Huddersfield amateurs Ethel and Annie take a shot at the big time. Teammates at Atalanta AFC, they are soon tackling new football skills, mastering the offside rule and kicking back at the doubters.

This summer’s audiences would have been invited to “come and cheer for Atalanta as our plucky underdogs learn how to play the game, take on the legendary teams of the era and find the toughest opponent of all is the Football Association”.

Whittington’s play is based on the true story of one of three women’s football teams in Huddersfield in post-war Britain. As told through the lives of two young women, Atalanta Ladies Football Club was formed in 1920 to “provide games for the women of Huddersfield, to foster a sporting spirit, and a love of honour among its members”.

During the Great War, several women’s football teams had sprung up around the country, usually based in factories or munitions works, and proved a great success in raising money for hospitals, war widows and so on. 

Atalanta Forever playwright Amanda Whittington

The popularity of the women’s game may be measured by the estimated 25,000 crowd that packed Hillsborough, Sheffield, for the Huddersfield team’s next game with the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC of Preston on May 4, when they lost 4-0 to their much more experienced opponents.

In the wider football world, the growing popularity of women’s football was now causing concern. The FA even saw it as taking support away from the men’s game and on December 5, 1921, they banned women’s teams from using FA affiliated grounds.

Before folding in 1924, the pioneering Huddersfield Atalanta Ladies FC had raised more than £2,000 for various charities.

Writer and co-lyricist Whittington says of her new play: “I was an 11-year-old footballer in the 1980s, the only girl who played in the boys’ village tournament, and I vividly remember being ‘advised’ to stop because it wasn’t appropriate. 

“I still feel the injustice and the sense of shame for wanting to do something I wasn’t meant to. 

“It brings joy to my heart to see football’s now the biggest team sport for girls in Britain.  I wanted to write about the battle the women’s game has fought to survive and prosper – and perhaps to tell the 11-year-old me she was right?”

A newly prescient poster for Mikron Theatre Company’s 2018 tour of Get Well Soon. How we need all those heroes in our NHS in the months ahead, God bless you all

Atalanta Forever was being directed by Mikron artistic director Marianne McNamara, joined in the production team by composer and co-lyricist Kieran Buckeridge, musical director Rebekah Hughes and designer Celia Perkins.

Explaining why Mikron chose to tackle the subject of the fight for women’s football, McNamara says: “Women’s football is making a comeback and not before time. We are thrilled to pay homage to the trailblazing Huddersfield women that paved the way against all odds.

“Just like the great game itself, this will be an action-packed play of two halves, full of live music, fun and laughter with no plans for extra time!”

Mikron’s 49th year of touring would have run from April 18 to October, with the West Yorkshire company travelling hither and thither by road in the spring and autumn, and by river and canal on the vintage narrowboat Tyseley, until October 24.

Let us look forward to whenever Mikron will be putting on their shows once more in “places that other theatre companies wouldn’t dream of”, whether a play about growing-your-own veg, presented in  allotments; one about bees performed next to hives; another about chips in a fish and chips restaurant, as well as plays about hostelling in YHA youth hostels and the RNLI at several lifeboat stations around the UK.

In the meantime, in the spirit of Mikron’s 2018 show by York writer Ged Cooper, please world, Get Well Soon.

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