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Best Foot Forward review at Youth Hostel Association, York – ‘footloose and jolly’

Rose McPhilemy in Best Foot Forward at the Youth Hostel Association, York. Photo: Peter Boyd
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Mikron Theatre embarks on its 46th annual tour with a show that takes a scenic hike through the history of the Youth Hostelling Association. But any initial thoughts of knapsacks, khaki shorts and Kumbaya sing-songs in the dorm are immediately dispelled as soon as the jaunty tale sets off.

Maeve Larkin’s fifth play for the company skilfully combines relevant archive information with irreverent revue-style songs in an uplifting story that pitches the ideals of a backpacking movement formed for the “common good” against a City slicker scheming to land-grab a crumbling YHA hostel and turn it into an elitist golf club.

There’s lots cultural mileage to take in, posing questions along the way about the need for the institution to evolve over time while retaining its grassroots principles. But Marianne McNamara’s economy sized fit-up production, cleverly designed to slot into a network of 150 non-theatre spaces and still look showy, achieves an insightful balance between education and entertainment.

The four actor-musicians tread a fine line too between send-up and seriousness, with Rose McPhilemy as the YHA’s first ever warden and Claire-Marie Seddon as a polymath hostel manager, and ukuleles and kazoos are brought out for a jolly ensemble number poking fun at assertive backpackers.

One song suggesting that the YHA story is a “tale of wanderlust” also applies to this footloose Mikron troupe which will soon combine the production with a tour of In at the Deep End, a new play about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, another uniquely British organisation.

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Verdict
Mikron’s footloose celebration of the history of youth hostelling
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