The waterways-based company Mikron has perfected the art of no-frills theatre over 48 years of touring. It performs anywhere that’s not an actual theatre: in pub gardens and village halls, on canal sides and allotments. Its shows are fairly basic, with one rudimentary backdrop, no amplification and no recorded sound, but they are also reckless and glorious.
In Nick Ahad’s musical play Redcoats, four engaging actor-musicians explore the history of Butlins through the story of Lyn (Rachel Benson), a fiercely defensive Redcoat about to do her final show, and the impatient young Destiny (Elizabeth Robin), who is all promotional videos and hashtags.
It’s an affectionate, affecting portrait in which the cast depicts everything from synchronised swimming to a riotously executed beauty pageant. The versatile actors play instruments – violin, cello, saxophone, ukulele, accordion, guitar – and switch characters with ease.
With a swift change of accent and a new set of the jaw, barrow boys of Clacton morph into sheep farmers of Wales. Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Drake, Laurel and Hardy and Ringo Starr all put in appearances. Swap a beret for a knotted handkerchief and you have an instant change of time and location.
Destiny wonders if anyone cares now about Billy Butlin. Ahad’s play is a reminder that Butlins was classless. It was built around the idea of bringing people together. This is underlined by Jonny Kelly’s production, with the cast selling raffle tickets in the interval, as lashings of goodwill flows between stage and audience.