Mikron head for Scarcroft Allotments with Common Ground, Poppy Hollman’s hike through history of land access

Mikron Theatre cast members Mark Emmons, left, Lauren Robinson, Georgina Liley and Eddie Ahrens in Poppy Hollman’s Common Groud. Picture: Robling Photogrpahy

GRAB boots and a waterproof on Sunday afternoon for a meander to Scarcroft Allotments, Scarcroft Road, York, for Mikron Theatre’s outdoor performance of Common Ground.

In their 52nd year, the Marsden company will be touring by canal, river and land throughout the summer with the premiere of Bedfordshire writer and lyricist Poppy Hollman’s third play for Mikron.

This one takes a hike through the history of land access in England – where only eight per cent of land is designated “open country” – at a time when the right to roam and the legal right to access are hot topics amid press stories of the “paywalling” of Cirencester Park and “Access Islands”.

Directed by Gitika Buttoo, Poppy’s outdoor drama tells the tale of the fictional Pendale and District Ramblers, who are looking forward to celebrating their 50th anniversary walk, only to discover that the landowner has blocked the path.

How will they find their way through? Mikron actor-musicians Eddie Ahrens, Georgina Liley, Lauren Robinson and Mark Emmons have to navigate this thorny subject matter with originally composed songs, witty lyrics, silliness, hat swapping and gusto.

Common Ground playwright and lyricist Poppy Hollman. Picture: Molly Hollman

Expect “plenty of laughs and pathos in this look at how we got to where we are now and where we might go next”. The ramblers’ quest for freedom and fresh air will not be easy, as they encounter revolting peasants, wandering sheep and a bull.

“This is my third commission for Mikron and it’s taken me on a wild ramble,” says Poppy. “From Saxon Times to Kinder Scout and beyond, the play explores our connection to the countryside around us. Who is it for, and why should we care?

“As the Right to Roam movement gains ground and there’s growing awareness of the importance of green spaces for our mental and physical health, it felt timely to explore how we access our countryside. The play delves into history to point out how access has been removed from ordinary folk over the years, from the Norman Conquest to the Enclosures Movement and contested Rights of Way.”

Director Gitika Buttoo, who directed A Force To Be Reckoned With for Mikron last year, says: “I’m so excited to be working with Mikron again for a second year running! It’s been a joyous experience working closely with the uber-talented Poppy Hollman on such an important subject matter.”

Ahrens returns from Buttoo’s company for A Force To Be Reckoned With, joined by Mikron debutants Liley, Robinson and Emmons.

Georgina Liley and Eddie Ahrens in a scene from Common Ground. Picture: Robling Photography

The touring production is designed and costumed by Celia Perkins, with musical composition by Dan McGlade (Macbeth and Twelfth Night for Leeds Playhouse) and musical direction and arrangements by Rebekah Hughes (Twitchers for Mikron; The Great Gatsby for Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre).

Mikron are touring by narrowboat and van from May 10 to October 18, no venue too small, as they head to 137 locations in 2024. More than half the performances will be “pay what you feel” after the show, rather than ticketed, and every performance has integrated audio description.

Common Ground is touring in tandem with the premiere of Jennie Lee, Lindsay Rodden’s new play charting the extraordinary life of the radical Scottish politician, Westminster’s youngest MP, so young that, as a woman in 1929, she could not vote.

Mikron Theatre in Common Ground, Scarcroft Allotments, Scarcroft Road, York, Sunday, 2pm. No reserved seating or tickets required; a “pay what you feel” collection will be taken post-show. For Common Ground dates visit https://mikron.org.uk/shows/common_ground/

Did you know?

OVER 52 years, Mikron Theatre have toured 70 productions on board the vintage narrowboat Tyseley and spent 35,000 boating hours on the inland waterways. Performing 5,487 times, they have played to 460,966 people and counting.

Mikron Theatre’s poster for the 2024 tour of Poppy Hollman’s Common Ground

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight, Red Sky At Night during the day, Mikron Theatre are at play at Scarcroft Allotments

Always take a brolly with you just in case: Mikron Theatre Company’s James Mclean, left, Hannah Bainbridge, Alice McKenna and Thomas Cotran on tour in Lindsay Rodden’s all-weathers play, Red Sky At Night. Picture: Elizabeth Baker

TODAY’S forecast for York is cloudy, with a moderate breeze, and a temperature of 17 degrees centigrade.

A grey day, but come rain or shine, Marsden’s Mikron Theatre Company would be performing Lindsay Rodden’s Red Sky At Night in the open air this afternoon at Scarcroft Allotments in their regular summer visit.

One of two plays taking to the roads and canals to mark Mikron’s 50th anniversary of “touring theatre anywhere for anyone”, Rodden’s premiere will spotlight the everyday topic we all talk about: the weather.

“Through an incredible half-a-century, whatever the weather, Mikron have travelled the country, chronicling our histories, our struggles, our passions and our lives,” says Lindsay, whose own journey has taken her from Scotland, to growing up in Merseyside, then County Donegal, and now living in North Shields.

Red Sky At Night playwright Lindsey Rodden

“I am over the moon to write just one of these stories, and say Happy Birthday Mikron, fighting fit and fifty years young!”

Three years ago, Lindsay was among writers invited to Marsden, the West Yorkshire village near Huddersfield, for writing sessions. “I’d seen Mikron’s work before and absolutely loved it, wherever I saw them, up by the Scottish border, north Cumbria and by the Wirral, and I’m so excited that the time spent at Marsden has led to this play.”

The pandemic, rather than rain, stopped play when Red Sky At Night should have been premiered last year. “It may have been shoved back by a year, but it’s been worth it for the extra time to work on it,” says Lindsay.

Picking a topic for a play, weather ticks all the boxes, given how, through the chronicles of history, people have gazed up and marvelled at the mysteries of the weather. Generations have tried to master the elements and understand the magic of the skies.

Mikron Theatre Company’s tour poster for Red Sky At Night

“My family is from Donegal, in Ireland, where it’s not unusual to have four seasons in one day: Factor 50 at the height of the day, thermals at night,” says Lindsay.

“For the play, I did quite a lot of historical research and meteorological research, and I’m not an expert in either, but I did know about how the weather can change our emotional state.

“I hit on the idea of having a central character who hides from the weather, finding it dangerous and unpleasant when you can stay at home and have a cup of tea instead.”

In Red Sky At Night, Hayley’s sunny, beloved dad was the nation’s favourite weatherman. She is now following in his footsteps, to join the ranks of the forecasting fraternity. Or at least, local shoestring teatime telly.

Ready for any weather: Mikron Theatre Company’s 2022 company of James McLean, Hannah Bainbridge,  Alice McKenna and Thomas Cotran. Picture: Elizabeth Baker

When the pressure drops and dark clouds gather, Hayley melts faster than a lonely snowflake. She may be seen as the future’s forecast, but will anyone listen?

“We all have weather inside us: sunny days, grey days, rainy days, emotional storms, but that means we need to get out there to experience something bigger.

“The weather can have that effect on you, but you’re also aware how it’s capricious, where there’s this giant, theatrical sky above us and we ignore its majesty at our peril.”

Explaining Hayley’s behaviour, Lindsay says: “I think, to a degree, we all want to rebel against our parents while at the same time following the patterns they set.

Another poster for Mikron Theatre Company summer tour of Red Sky At Night in all weathers

“I do feel that way, but without giving too much away, something happened to Hayley’s dad that made her retreat from the outside world, holing herself up at home, only occasionally looking out of the window.”

Climate change has its impact on the play too. “I always knew the climate crisis would be important to it, but once you start to study weather and meteorology, you realise all life is dependent on it, when we interrupt the balance of life at our peril , when all the conditions should have been right for a perfect world – but you’ve still got to be hopeful that it’s not too late,” says Lindsay.

“You have to access the calm sunrise, rather than the raging storm, inside you.”

Mikron Theatre Company in Red Sky At Night, Scarcroft Allotments, York, 2pm today. No ticket required; Pay What You Feel after the performance. The tour runs until October 21; full itinerary at mikron.org.uk.

Weather tip of the day: If you can see the hills, it’s going to rain. If you can’t see the hills, it’s raining.

Mikron’s weather advice for the tour: Bring your anorak and your Factor 50. Well, you never know.

Did you know: Lindsay Rodden is working on a practice-based PhD on dramaturgy and political theatre with Leeds University and Red Ladder Theatre Company.

Mikron Theatre Company’s Raising Agents celebration of the Women’s Institute rises again at Clements Hall on September 18

Mikron Theatre Company’s tour poster for this summer’s revival of their 2015 premiere, Maeve Larkin’s Raising Agents

MIKRON Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary tour will bring the Marsden travelling players to York for a second time this summer.

After the premiere of Lindsay Rodden’s Red Sky At Night at Scarcroft Allotments in May, here comes Rachel Gee’s revival of Maeve Larkin’s 2015 play about the Women’s Institute’s centenary, Raising Agents, at Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, on September 18 at 4pm.

Bunnington WI is somewhat down-at-heel, with memberships dwindling, meaning they can barely afford the hall, let alone a decent speaker. However, when a PR guru becomes a member, the women are glad of new blood, but the milk of WI kindness begins to sour after she re-brands them as the Bunnington Bunnies.

A battle ensues for the very soul of Bunnington, perhaps the WI itself, in a tale of hobbyists and lobbyists that asks how much we should know our past or how much we should let go of it.

Raising Agents features not only a cast of Hannah Bainbridge, Thomas Cotran, Alice McKenna and James McLean but also songs by folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow, Mikron’s Marsden neighbours of Gentleman Jack theme-tune fame. 

Box office: email willyh@phonecoop.coop; ring 07974 867301 or 01904 466086; call in at Pextons, Bishopthorpe Road, York.

James McLean, left, Hannah Bainbridge, Alice McKenna and Thomas Cotran, at the back, in Mikron Theatre Company’s Raising Agents. Picture: Elizabeth Baker

Over the past 50 years of touring Mikron Theatre Company have:

●       Written 66 original shows;

●       Composed and written 396 songs;

●       Issued more than 240 actor-musician contracts;

●      Travelled  34,000 boating hours on the inland waterways;

●       Covered 545,000 road miles;

●       Performed more than 5,200 times;

●       Performed to more than 436,000 people.

Fact file: Marianne McNamara, artistic director

MARIANNE joined Mikron as an actor in 2003 and has never left.

2022 is Marianne’s 13th year as artistic director.

She directed Lindsay Rodden’s Red Sky At Night this year as her 13th show for Mikron.

Alongside directing, she books tours, develops plays, captains Mikron’s narrow boat, Tyseley, on tour.