Review: An August Bank Holiday Lark

Funny and heart-breaking, with a versatile cast. Photograph: Nobby Clark
2 Apr 2014 @ 9.52 pm
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Funny and heart-breaking, with a versatile cast. Photograph: Nobby Clark
Funny and heart-breaking, with a versatile cast. Photograph: Nobby Clark

Review: An August Bank Holiday Lark by Northern Broadsides
Venue: York Theatre Royal, April 1

The centenary of the start of the First World War is proving to be a rich source material for theatre companies. Only a couple of weeks ago York Theatre Royal hosted Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong and now we have Northern Broadsides bringing us a new production, An August Bank Holiday Lark.

Written by former Coronation Street star Deborah McAndrew (she played Angie Freeman in the Nineties), it emerged from a challenging brief: a play about the Great War and… folk dancing.

However McAndrew has turned what could be a twee tale into a truly emotional journey, with laughs, loves, songs and yes, Morris dancing.

We join a small Lancashire mill town on the cusp of war, preparing for the annual Rushcart festival. There is young love, old sadness and traditions being upheld.

I don’t know how many of the cast had any Morris dancing experience before they started, I imagine not many. But they acquitted themselves well, considering they had to not only act but dance, sing and play musical instruments!

After watching Birdsong a couple of weeks ago, I was expecting something of a similar tone.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find Lark to be a whole lot funnier – in fact the first half was reminiscent of one of those great Shakespearian comedies, with our young lovers (Frank and Mary) meeting in secret, conspiring against the wishes of her father.

Darren Kuppan (Frank) brought a likeability to a character who is cocky and flashy, while Emily Butterfield (Mary) provided a grounded counterpoint to him, meaning it was easy to see them as a couple.

Most of the comedy came from former Theatre Royal employee Lauryn Redding as bawdy, hilarious Susie, all big gestures, big voice and big laughs.

When the second half takes its inevitable wartime turn, the play goes from broad comedy to heart-breaking sadness as most of the men join the local regiment and ship off to Gallipoli. Sadly, to tell you more would spoil some beautiful twists and turns.

Pretty much all the music was provided by various cast members picking up violins, drums and even a banjo, with a couple of haunting songs thrown in.

The set and lighting design was simple, yet evocative, allowing the actors to come to the fore.

Lark never outstayed its welcome, never laboured a point, punctured any potential over-sentimentality with a cheeky joke, yet allowed the strong ensemble cast to bring home the emotional core of the story.

Definitely worth the trip out.