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Seen and Heard Musical Play Review



Mrs Brunel:  A life with Isambard Kingdom Brunel 07. 05.2006, Driftwood Spars Hotel, St. Agnes, Cornwall.(PCW)



Written and directed by Mike Lucas
Music and lyrics by Chris Blackwood and Rebekah Hughes
Music directed by Rebekah Hughes
Players: Emilia Brodie, Ruth Cataroche, Robert Took and Daniel Wexler

I suspect that most Seen and Heard reviews are planned well in advance. In this case, when my wife and I were staying in a pub in Cornwall for a few days, by chance a musical play was to be staged in the upstairs bar on Sunday evening. With cultural expectations limited to some George Lloyd* on the portable CD player, a book about Ukrainian tractors and the crossword, free entry and the prospect of a beer during the performance – how better to unwind after a long walk?

Four performers from the Mikron Theatre Company turned up in a van, unloaded their kit and prepared the stage. The possibility of going al fresco was discounted by dodgy weather and an audience of about 30 (including our dog) gathered as the players warmed up their instruments which included two guitars, keyboard, violin, clarinet, flute, soprano saxophone and recorder. The changing room consisted of a small curtained area of the stage and was in constant use, in particular by Emilia Brodie and Robert Took who spent the evening in a series of cameo roles. Daniel Wexler played Brunel and Ruth Cataroche his wife. All four performers showed great versatility, each being required to act, sing and play at least two musical instruments. It would be unfair to single out any one of them – each was wholly committed, highly proficient and entertaining. Above all there was superb teamwork in playing conditions which cannot have been easy but were intimate and atmospheric.

Mrs Brunel was structured chronologically around the life and achievements of her great engineer husband from the time he proposed marriage in 1836 until his death 23 years later. Born Mary Horsley into a musical family, she knew Mendelssohn and echoes of his music were apparent. At no stage was the score profound or overtly operatic but it was effective and, above all, fun. The overarching theme was a Mrs Brunel who despaired of her workaholic, visionary husband but remained solidly behind him through serious accidents, both physical and financial, and endured failures as well as savouring great triumphs. The two acts, each lasting about an hour, passed by very quickly and were well-received. At the end the audience was locked in and asked to part with their money, fill in gift aid forms and buy Mikron merchandise. We all did so willingly.

The Mikron Theatre company has a proud history dating back to 1972 and its current players will shortly be discarding their van and touring the UK by barge (see: http://www.mikron.org.uk/index.html for details). If you live in England, there will probably be a performance of this and/or another production called Carrying On by the company somewhere near you this summer and autumn. If you fancy something a bit different, make sure you don’t miss it.

Patrick C Waller



* By way of an aside, George Lloyd was “discovered” when a critic from The Times heard his music whilst visiting Cornwall in the 1930s. No parallel is intended; MusicWeb is not quite The Times (Not yet, I hear Len Mullenger say) and the Mikron company seems to be well-established already.


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