Montmorency the dog, Ratty, Mole, Mr Toad: many famous characters have been inspired by the River Thames. Now a new, distinctly descriptive, name is added: Itchington Scratchit. He builds skiffs, the sort of rowing boat used in Three Men in a Boat, and he’s the principal character in Tales of the Thames, a new play written for the Mikron Theatre Company by Richard Povall.

“As part of my research I watched the old children’s programme Tales from the Riverbank,” Richard explained. “And, of course, I read Wind in the Willows. These made me want to name my characters in a slightly more heightened way. I came up with the name Itchington Scratchit, and then developed the character around the name. Itchington, like Mole and Ratty, has lived by the river all his life and epitomises the river.”

The Thames makes ideal subject matter for Mikron, since this small, professional theatre company has toured the national waterways for 38 years, for most of the time using the traditional narrowboat Tyseley.

“Having for many years — nine years in fact — travelled as an actor on the river on Tyseley, I was aware of the Thames’s beauty and history,” Richard told me. “A trip up the river in a boat to the source, like that of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the novelist Thomas Love Peacock back in the early 19th century, has for me always seemed like a good idea for a play. I grew up admiring the works of Shelley and Peacock. Out of this initial interest grew Tales of the Thames, in which we follow a journey not only up to the source but also downriver to the sea.

“Two of the characters Roly and Ab, set off upstream on a camping skiff to get to the source of the Thames. They have been given some River Magic by their Uncle Itch, which will enable them to travel back in time and explore Thames history. Roly is looking forward to arriving at Oxford and meeting his hero the 19th-century poet Shelley. Shelley studied at Oxford, and was thrown out after his first year for being a radical and an aetheist. When they arrive at Oxford however, Roly and Ab are met by a vicious storm and have fun and games trying to keep dry. Meeting Shelley will have to wait — and does!”

Mikron shows have traditionally featured rather less glamorous waterways than the Thames. The Rochdale Canal, for instance, hasn’t inspired quite so many world-famous writers. Did that fact, I wondered, make Tales of the Thames more of a challenge?

“It did, in that there is a vast amount of research material about the Thames. It’s somewhat research heavy! Lots of writers have told stories about journeying on the Thames, and these were all grist for the mill.

“The challenge was to make it my own. I must mention Peter Ackroyd’s big book, Thames — Sacred River, which is a wonderful ‘biography’ of the Thames, and well worth reading.”

Tales of the Thames is directed by Richard Povall’s wife, Vashti Maclachlan, herself an actor with Mikron for five years. On the day we met up, she was catching up with the show at the London Canal Museum.

But there was a snag: Mikron actors have to pilot Tyseley as well as perform most evenings. On this occasion, there had been a series of breakdowns, resulting in the cast, and a relief crew of friends, having to boat through the night.

So how receptive, I asked Vashti, did she think the cast would be to ‘notes’ — the theatrical term for directors’ comments?

“I hope they will be! They have done six or seven shows as we speak, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve done with it. When you’ve directed something, you kind of hand it over to the actors.

“They make of it what they will, you’ve got to let it turn into what it will turn into. I don’t like the idea of the director being the big boss at the top, who everyone’s scared of. But you’ve still got to give them notes.”

And make sure that the actors can be heard, for performing outside in a pub garden they may well have to compete with fighting dogs, passing aeroplanes — or football commentary blasting out from the pub TV. Vashti remembered one such occasion from her acting days.

“It was at Bourne End, we were doing A Woman’s Place outside in a pub garden. The football was also on, I think it was a really important match, the World Cup or something like that.

“The landlord of the pub walked behind the performance holding up the score during a really intense bit of the play, about how women got the vote. That’s all part of the fun of a Mikron show.”

lTales of the Thames can be seen at: Goring Lock, June 20; The Plough, Wolvercote, June 23; The Ferryman, Bablockhythe, June 24; Heyford Wharf, June 27; The Boat, Thrupp, June 29; Tooley’s Boatyard, Banbury, July 11; and Wharf House, Cropredy, July 13. Mikron’s other show this year, Fair Trade, the story of the co-operative movement, will be at The Plough, Long Wittenham, on June 22; The Queen’s Head, Eynsham, June 25; The Boat, Thrupp, June 28; The Great Western Arms, Aynho, July 1; and Wharf House, Cropredy, July 12. Visit