Review: Beyond The Veil, Mikron Theatre Company, Scarcroft Allotments, York

4:33pm Friday 31st May 2013

By Charles Hutchinson

HIVES! Honey! Homicide! And a sting in the tale, of course.

Trouble is, the most significant deaths in Deborah McAndrew’s new murder mystery do not occur in the plot but in the accompanying ecological message of Marsden company Mikron Theatre’s entertaining and educational show.

McAndrew is a beekeeper herself, hence the urgency of her concern that our bee population has halved and our wild meadows have decreased by 97 per cent. Rather than having a grim bee in her bonnet, however, her play is uplifting, topped off by packets of wild flower seeds being distributed to each audience member to do their duty by the bee.

Mikron Theatre’s cast will take to their narrowboat for three months of waterways shows from June 10 but in the meantime are visiting such places as Scarcroft Allotments in York on Wednesday this week.

Awnings protected cast and well-wrapped audience alike from the May rain, but evening bird song and a cake and tea stall were signs of summer promise, and dripping water was only a minor inconvenience, even leading to amusing impromptu comments from cast members when thrown off their stride.

Directed with zest and storytelling brio by Adam Sunderland, a busy-bee cast of four actor-musicians play multiple roles and assorted instruments, as well as singing doo-wop songs composed by Conrad Nelson with witty lyrics by McAndrew.

Her crime thriller is performed in the melodramatic style of a B-movie – or should that be Bee Movie? – wherein the no-nonsense northern gardeners of the Thistledale Allotments are jolted by the discovery of the body of grouchy member April May.

No-one is beyond the suspicion of Nicholas Coutu-Langmead’s Irish gumshoe, Detective Starkey, including tattooed southern allotment interloper Willie Stringer (Coutu-Langmead again).

Could the murderer be shovel-wielding allotment stalwart Bert ((Rob Took)? Or April’s even grumpier twin sister June May (a wonderfully blunt Caroline Hallam)? Or maybe the ever perky, pucker Ruth or embittered, boozy Councillor Crotty (Ruth Cataroche’s delightfully contrasting roles)?

As the silver-tongued sleuth conducts his steadfast enquiries, so Took’s Bob Honeyman, chairman of TUBA, the Thistledale Urban Beekeepers Association, takes every opportunity to explain beekeeping and bees’ behaviour. In doing so, McAndrew cleverly links human traits to those of bees, aiding Starkey in his deductions.

To bee or not to bee? Oh, you should definitely make a beeline for Beyond The Veil, a fresh, fun, buzzing outdoor play that will make you appreciate the wonder of bees all the more.

Lizi Patch review of Losing the Plot - October 2012

The packed village hall was introduced to the rag tag bunch of gardeners of Thistledale Allotments  – laying bare their love and their longing, their strategies for winning the annual ‘Heaviest and Longest’ competition (nudge nugde, wink wink), and how they ultimately pull together to defeat the evil Italian Council bod, Harvey Grimelli, (almost indistinguishable at times from Matt Berry’s portrayal of Douglas Reynholm from the IT Crowd – which isn’t necessarily a criticism but I couldn’t see anything else!) … and make sure their precious plots are safe for future generations.
Written by Deborah McAndrew for Mikron’s 40th birthday, touring the country by narrowboat, this show is a heady cross between the Vicar of Dibley, Viz, Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, all chucked in a trug with a handful of Blood, Fish and Bone, shaken about a bit and tipped out, riggling and gurning to at once entertain and raise awareness of the resurgence of the allotments and to look at the vital role that allotments have played in the life of the nation for centuries.

However, the actor/musicians are a superb and accomplished cast (I can see why I never made the grade) and the audience enjoyed themselves immensely. I loved the inventiveness of the storytelling, the slick songs and accomplished musicianship. I enjoyed the neat framing device of three love stories holding the audiences interest with the requisite ‘will they, won’t they?’ conflict. It was a brilliant idea creating scarecrows as extra characters that the actors later breathed life into (I really wanted to see more of them! … but imagine time had something to do with that!). And I applaud any company who doesn’t rely on their audiences coming to them, but plonks itself firmly in the heart of their community and gives them a rollicking good night -  or day -  out.

So, if you get the chance, go and see a genuinely heart-warming, beautifully performed piece of community theatre  - and buy a raffle ticket… I won the raffle. And it was a very decent red wine. It washed down my Jelly Babies a treat.

Thank you Mikron and East Cottingwith for your hospitality.

This is Leicestershire review of Cranford - July 2011

With the emphasis on farce, this merry romp omitted many of the novel's tragic elements, to deliver a heart-warming crowd-pleaser, which happily maintained the subtle subtext of Victorian social upheaval.

Fans of the story will know there is not so much a plot as a series of events which unfold slowly in the sleepy village of Cranford, each of which leads to much gossip and vexation among the trio of protagonists, the timid Miss Matty (Kirsty Cox), the sensible Miss Smith (Kirsty Worthington) and the dependably outraged Miss Pole (Grace K. Miller).

As an influx of outsiders descends upon Cranford, bringing change, scandal and the prospect of romance, the misunderstandings come thick and fast, with hypocrisy mercilessly lampooned and age-old tradition challenged.

With so much to cram into a two-hour production of Cranford, the cast were kept constantly on their toes, changing costumes, scenery and tone at
 the drop of a bonnet.

Particularly impressive was the multi-talented Caroline Hallam, who played a flirtatious maid, a deaf spinster and a sickly teenager, often in the same act, as well as providing musical accompaniment on the violin.

Most pleasing of all was that the wise and warm-hearted tone of Gaskell's original was kept perfectly intact amid the slapstick.

The Stage Review of Cranford - August 2011


Published Monday 8 August 2011 at 10:40 by Kevin Berry

Mrs Gaskell’s cherished tale of Cranford and its bonneted ladies is treated with affectionate satire and agreeable sentiment in a brand new production from the Chapterhouse company. The cast of Cranford is also playing The Taming of the Shrew at other outdoor venues.

There is much walking to be done on Cranford’s streets so the actors have a wide stage with a couple of foot bridges. Two cottages, each the size of a Wendy house, enable four faces to stare out of windows and remark on the quite shocking goings-on - “He has his hand on her waist - dear me.” York’s nightlife is a world away.

The staging will look good in any outdoor location and frocks and bonnets will always charm. As the evening lights fade and rugs are pulled tighter, the characters matter, their schemes and hopes grip, their embarrassments are enjoyed. The plot line involving a puppet dog can be excused, if you share this reviewer’s tastes.

Laura Turner’s adaptation is constrained by time and scope but it is not too wide of the mark. The restrained playing of the luckless Miss Matty by Kirsty Cox perfectly suits the character.

Grace K Miller’s Miss Pole, the chief busybody, sets the tone with her withering comments, and her companions respond as they should. Physical reactions are less well expressed.

Altogether a fine team effort from a constantly busy cast. Caroline Hallam plays four characters and is a solo musician but she never looks ruffled. On colder nights she will be thankful for the exercise.