Review: Redcoats, Mikron Theatre Company, Scarcroft Allotments, York, and on tour. Sherlock Holmes, The Sign Of Four, Blackeyed Theatre, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

THE rain held off, but the rugs were out, and hot chocolate and flapjack were selling briskly in the shed shop.

Welcome to the new season of summer theatre in York, jolted back into life as ever by Marsden’s Mikron Theatre Company at Scarcroft Allotments before they take to the waters on board narrowboat Tyseley.

Aptly, as thoughts drift towards summer holidays, Redcoats turns the spotlight on the 80th anniversary of Billy Butlin’s holiday camps. Playwright Nick Ahad writes from personal experience, having spent 12 summers beside the sea in a Butlin’s Skegness chalet from the age of three with his Keighley family.

“Our true intent is all for your delight,” said the South African-born leisure and entertainment entrepreneur Billy Butlin, borrowing his mantra from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The same applies to Ahad’s storytelling play, where he uses the framing device of a Redcoats show being rehearsed that will cover Butlin’s history. Ostensibly, it

will mark the retirement of veteran Redcoat Aunty Lyn (Rachel Benson); she wants to tell it her way, as she always has done, with the help of a devoted acolyte (Christopher Arkeston) and interjections from a seen-it-all-before octogenarian janitor (Joshua Considine).

However, the new sharpshooter from Ents (Elizabeth Robin) wants not only to alter the script, but also to film it for the wider Butlin’s world, thinking she knows best when she lacks sensitivity, experience and management skills. These chalk-and-cheese women are soon at loggerheads, their creative tensions providing the play’s driving force, but both are somewhat irritating, stubborn, humourless characters. Instead, much of the humour must come from the two men, trying to appease the two warring women.

The clashes become wearing, leavened however by the nuggets of Butlin’s history, from Ringo Starr’s pre-Beatles days to Laurel and Hardy judging a beauty contest and Billy Butlin’s inspiring encounter with Marlene Dietrich, plus revelations of his unconventional business dealings. Arkeston’s characterisation of Butlin himself is the play’s ace card, overshadowing all around him.

The actor-musicians’ playing skills on myriad instruments rather surpass musical director Rebekah Hughes’s tunes, and in particular the closing number is too downbeat, too redolent of typical British holiday weather.

If you missed Redcoats, Mikron will return to York in the autumn to present All Hands On Deck, A Tale Of Two Wrens, Vashti Maclachlan’s account of the women who have helped to keep the Navy afloat, at Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, on September 22 at 4pm.

NICK Lane is writing the Stephen Joseph Theatre's Christmas show for the fourth year running, this time adapting Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island for a run from December 5 to December 31.

Such is Lane's popularity among Scarborough audiences that an all-too-brief visit by Blackeyed Theatre drew a full house to the Round for Friday's performance of his adroit adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story The Sign Of Four.

Whereas his pantomimes are gloriously daft, fluffy as a souffle and delightfully unpredictable, writer-director Lane can deliver works of a heavier heft too, such as The Sign Of Four, where there are still shards of humour, but the game afoot here is often darker, especially in the performances of multiple role players Ru Hamilton and Zach Lee.

Played straight, Luke Barton's young Holmes does not dominate the play, Joseph Derrington's narrator, Dr John Watson, being equally to the fore in a far from elementary thriller, delivered with pace, precision and panache.

Charles Hutchinson