A play starring four people all about the history of Butlin’s sounds like it’ll be mildly entertaining – but Mikron theatre manages to make it one of the best pieces I’ve seen all year.
Written by Nick Ahad, Redcoats follows retiring Redcoat ‘Auntie Lynne’ as she prepared for her final show. Her well-meaning colleagues and friends surprise her with a rewritten script so marketing guru Destiny can film the show and document Lynne’s incredible Butlin’s journey. It’s a play that addresses the issues of new ideals taking over tradition, the rise (and fall) of “the good old days” and ultimately how Billy Butlin changed the way the country connected with each other and enjoyed their holidays.
The intimate setting and innovative creation, designed by Celia Perkins, is perfect for the show. The use of a simple backdrop as a set, with an astounding number of quick costume changes, props and instruments bringing the piece to life gives this show an authentic, down-to-earth vibe which means myself and the audience are really rooting for the characters and their story.
The cast’s incredible versatility and shining likability gives this show its heart. Directed by Jonny Kelly, the cast embody their various characters with ease – particularly difficult when segments of this show require ‘play within a play’ acting, notoriously difficult to pull off.
Christopher Arkeston plays eager new Redcoat Barry, who then takes on the role of Billy Butlin in the play. He’s full of showman energy and his poignant moments are simply adorable. He contrasts well with the Elizabeth Robin as the overbearing Destiny, who manages to create a highly irritating, flouncy character with a deeper vulnerability.
For me, Rachel Benson and Joshua Considine lead the show as the adorable elderly Lynne and Terence (the technician at Bultin’s). They beautifully create doddery, sweet old folk without being offensive or caricatured. Considine in particular brings great humour to each of his smaller characters, with lively energy and spot-on accents to differentiate each character.
The play itself allows for great comedy moments, though there are a few too many “poignant” scenes meant to allow us to think carefully about times gone by and our reliance on social media. Ultimately, in a play about Butlin’s, the show could have done without too much moral reflection.
I haven’t seen Mikron theatre shows previously, so the blend between straight storytelling and musical magic came as a delightful surprise. The songs, written by composer & musical director Rebekah Hughes, provide an additional opportunity for comedy, poignancy and moments of reflection. The cast’s stunning musical abilities shine through – not only are they great actors, they’re clearly incredible singers and instrumentalists too.
I am a total Mikron theatre convert, and will certainly be following their narrowboat to their next tour in 2020 and beyond.
To find out when Mikron theatre are next coming to a venue near you, visit their website!
Photograph credited to Peter Boyd