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Company is still afloat
Forty years ago this year, actor Mike Lucas decided that his mission was to take professional theatre to unusual venues outside London. And what better way to do that than by travelling by narrowboat on the canals? So he founded the water-borne Mikron Theatre Company.
“If you had said to me back in 1972 that we would still be going 40 years later, I would never have believed it,” Mike says. “It’s very rare for a small theatre company to survive for ten years let alone 40.”
Since 1975, Mikron’s floating home has been the Tyseley, originally built for carrying freight on the Grand Union Canal.
Oxfordshire has been included on Mikron tours since the earliest days. “When we first travelled down the Oxford Canal steering a full-length narrowboat, The Flower of Gloster, we thought that some of the bends, particularly on the summit, were ‘undoable’,” Mike remembers. “We ended up aground on the banks many times. We gradually learnt how to boat properly.”
“But in 1982 I stupidly tried to stop Tyseley hitting a lock wall at Shipton-on-Cherwell, and broke my shoulder. We boated on to Thrupp where Gill, the wonderful landlady of the Boat Inn, whisked me away to hospital. I got back many hours later having missed the performance.
“The next day I was determined to go back ‘on stage’, but I couldn’t get my shirt on. I needed an oversize union shirt. Radio Oxford kindly put out an appeal, and within an hour two shirts ideal for the job arrived and I was able to perform. It wasn’t until I’d finished that I realised how much pain I was in! I shall also never forget performing on the American airbase at Upper Heyford. “Tied up on the canal there, the noise of jets taking off was frightening.
“Our performances at Heyford were interesting too. We were treated like the old-time travelling players, and were made to wait while the officers and wives ate. Then we were called on to do our stuff. All the time there were airmen waiting ‘on alert’ ready to take off and drop H-bombs. After a couple of years, we turned the invite down.”
Mike Lucas ran Mikron until 2005, when his role was split between Richard Povall (artistic director) and Pete Toon (producer): “I took on the unsexy stuff that Richard felt he wasn’t good at,” laughs Pete, “like booking the venues — we are visiting 140 different places this year. But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I felt able to stop phoning Mike for advice.”
Without any form of public subsidy, Mikron triumphantly carries on, “finding new ways to do what we set out to do 40 years ago,” as Pete puts it.
With an eye on the sky overhead, he adds: “In my time we’ve never had to completely cancel a performance because of the weather. If worse comes to the worst, we have special indoor versions of our shows. We just omit the movements, and let the audiences’ imaginations do the rest.”
Mikron tours through Oxfordshire during July. For full details visit www.mikron.org.uk