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A show on the Women’s Institute is great fun, says PETER FROST, and it bawdily marks some illuminating moments in its history

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Raising Agents
The Admiral Nelson, Braunston/Touring
*****

ON A balmy evening in a canal-side pub garden, an audience of a hundred or so are singing William Blake’s Jerusalem.

They’ve been encouraged to do so by four women — two of them played by men — who are telling the somewhat surprising story of the Women’s Institute and its contribution to feminism, women’s liberation and pie making. This is political theatre, Jim, but definitely not as we know it.

Since 1972 The Mikron theatre have been taking such self-made musical shows by narrow boat and the occasional van to unlikely locations like canal-side pubs, allotments, village halls and even hospices all over the country. Recently another Morning Star reviewer caught One of Each, their play set in a fish and chip shop, and hugely enjoyed it.

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Raising Agents is the other Mikron show currently on tour and in it four talented performers — Rachael Henley, Ellen Chivers, Steve McCourt and James McLean — play the members of the fictional and struggling-to-survive Bunnington Women’s Institute.

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Along the way, they assume an assortment of other characters, from Suffragettes to Tony Blair and play fiddle, accordion, flute and razzamatazz washboard to accompany some original and hilarious songs.

Any play charting the 100-year history of the WI must include jam, Jerusalem, nude calendars and a recipe for rabbit pie and Raising Agents doesn’t disappoint in this respect. But it also includes the WI’s active campaigning on the Bastardy Bill, women’s health education and VD, unemployment and equal pay, Aids, Thatcher the milk-snatcher, banning the bomb, recycling, Greenham Common and a whole lot more.

Written by Maeve Larkin and directed by Marianne McNamara, it’s got some right-on politics and music hall-style bawdy humour, summed up by the best line in the show: “We are the women who gave Tony Blair the clap!”

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Mikron are touring all over England throughout the summer and they’re definitely not to be missed.

Tour details: mikron.org.uk

This review first appeared in the Morning Star 10 June 2015

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