Frankenstein: a marvellous thing brought back to life

Dr. Frankenstein about the create his creature

Faithful to the book, innovative to stage yet shunning electronic wizardry, Blackeyed Theatre’s take on Frankenstein outshines the multimedia extravaganzas.

Technology has transformed theatres. There was a time when the only way to get music of a decent sound quality was to bring your own orchestra along, a sound of a thunderstorm has to be done with complicated off-stage equipment, and lighting was a complicated affair only possible in the bigger theatres. Nowadays it’s possible to to achieve all this even in the smallest fringe theatre spaces. Such is the advance of technology it’s easy to forget there was once a great art to staging plays without electronic wizardry. Not a better way or a worse way, but something different.

But one group who doesn’t want to let this go is Blackeyed Theatre. This groups does a range of plays in a range of styles, but this particular brand first appeared in 2013 when a team led by director Eliot Giuralarocca did Dracula. It was a small-scale production with a cast of five and no sound effects other than what the actors produce on stage, and apart from one bit of over-ambitious doubling (that caused Van Hesling to have a fight with Dracula played by the same actor), it was a good production in a refreshing style. Now the same team is back with Frankenstein. They’re still faithful to the book, still using a small cast, and still have no sound other than what they’ve done a stage – but they’ve built on what they did in Dracula, and gone from a good adaptation to an outstanding one.

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The Season Ticket: a prize above all prizes

Scene from The Season Ticket

Sometimes touching, sometimes brutal, The Season Ticket is a great four-way collaboration portraying lives on the fringe of society.

Could you assemble a better team? Lee Mattinson has already shown how skilled his writing is with Donna Disco and Chalet Lines.  Pilot Theatre wowed us with one of the best staged plays ever with The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Northern Stage, of course, as an excellent track record of mainstream productions. And Purely Belter, the film adaptation already made of the book this is based on, is a cult classic in Newcastle. And yet seemingly surefire collaborations don’t always work out. Such high expectation can set up such bitter disappointments. But not here. The Season Ticket is every bit as good as I hoped it would be, and more.

Gary and Sewell are two young lads at the very bottom of the pile. Gary has a sister who is desperate to get her A-levels so that – it is quietly understated – she can get out and move on to a better life – Gary has given up on going to school, and best friend Sewell has seemingly given up in general ever since his father died. The two of them begin in the middle of an inept petty crime, looking for suitable luxury household appliances to burgle from their headmaster’s house. Perhaps, it’s suggested early on, it’s got something to do with Gary having a half-inattentive alcoholic mother. But it emerges that she, too, has her own reasons to give up, once it emerges what sort of person Gary’s father was and what he did to them. Continue reading

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Odds and Sods: November 2016

Welcome December, and what may possibly be the last odds and sods of 2016. I’m not planning to do an odds and sods for December because you don’t tend to hear much other than pantomimes, pantomimes and more pantomimes. Unless, of course, 2016 decides to go out with a bang and have a figure from us beloved throughout the theatre world. (My money’s still on Boris and Sergey’s suggestion though. If 2016 really want to go out with a bang and take a national treasure, David Attenborough’s in big trouble.)

Anyway, let’s not carry on tempting fate by suggesting further celebrity deaths, what happened in November.

Alphabetti needs a new home

Alphabetti Theatre barAlphabetti Theatre deserves a break. First they lost their original home at the Dog and Parrot, and put all their work into setting up a new venue. They ran into financial trouble and had to do more fundraising. The extent to which they were supported and the acts they’ve had booked is a treatment how well they’ve done. So now what do they get? Their landlord wants the basement back.  To be fair to the landlord, this was always part of the deal. They, and many other organisations in the same building, were able to rent the space for cheap because the building was earmarked for redevelopment and no-one else wanted it. Until now, I’d always assumed that this would be like Pauper’s Pit in Buxton, where the redevelopment that is definitely going ahead next year takes place over a decade later, but this time, seems the landlord actually meant it. Continue reading

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Buxton to Brighton: what I’ve learned

So, it’s been six months since my Brighton Fringe escapades. This blog isn’t the place where I promote my own work – the short version is that I got my first four-star review but I had abysmal ticket sales. Still, it appears to have helped my efforts along back in the north-east, albeit in different ways to what I expected. If you really want to read all the cherry-picked ego-inflating quotes I’m using, you can read it here. But this post isn’t about promoting my work, it’s a list of lessons I’ve learned that might have other people.

As with my first two “What I’ve learned” posts, this isn’t a comprehensive list of tips for taking part in a fringe, but rather a list of things I found in in the process of taking a show to Brighton, having previously only had experience of Buxton. Some things scaled up as expected, some things worked out differently. For anyone else trying this, your unexpected experiences will probably be different. Without further ado, here we go. Continue reading

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So much for Ayckbourn’s retirement 2: Henceforward, Karaoke Theatre, Consuming Passions

REVIEWS: Skip to: Henceforward …, Karaoke Theatre Company, Consuming Passions

Hey, Alan, aren’t you supposed to be having a rest? He stepped down over six years ago, but perhaps to cover a Chris Monks-shaped hole in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s programme, he’s directing three plays – four if count the lunchtime shows as two. And he’s doing the Christmas production too. He was never normally this busy when he was Artistic Director. I suppose his final season as Artistic Director back in 2008 might have been a little busier depending on how you count things, but really, what happened to this retirement of his?

The good news, of course, is that Ayckbourn-heavy seasons in Scarborough rarely disappoint, and this is no exception. So let’s get stuck in.

Henceforward …

Zoe faces Nan

Ayckbourn trivia 1: Alan Ayckbourn wrote and directed Henceforward … during his two-year sabbatical at the National Theatre. Yes, even when he was wowing crowds at the National with A Small Family Business and other plays, he still found time to produce at Scarborough. Ayckbourn trivia 2: Henceforward … was a return to a genre he’d not visited ever since a very early (and now abandoned) play Standing Room Only, that being science fiction, with a heavy emphasis on a dystopian future, breaking a twenty-five run of plays dominated by middle-class suburbia. He’s done other decent science fiction plays since, but this remains his most acclaimed, and this year it returned to Scarborough just shy of its 30th anniversary. Continue reading

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Odds and sods: October 2016

Are you guys recovered from fringe season yet? I haven’t. Just when one project finishes, along comes another. And I’ve still got a month’s backlog of reviews. Never mind, should have a quieter November, Then it’s my forced break in December when it’s sodding panto season. Oh joy.

Stuff that happened in October

Hmm. Still seems to be a relatively quiet months. Only four things to report, and two of them aren’t really new. Never mind, here we go.

Brighton fringe registration opens

Yes. Already. Preparations for 2017’s fringe season are properly underway. At this stage, the big thing to look out for is venues. Who’s new, who’s expanding. The most attention at this stage goes to the super-venue though. With Brighton increasingly dominated by the giants of The Warren, Sweet and Spiegeltent, the decisions they make will shape the festival as a whole. Continue reading

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September fringe roundup

Yes, I know, it’s almost November. This is quite embarrassing., especially as I saw two of these on press tickets. I have a sort-of excuse that I’ve had my usual Edinburgh Fringe backlog combined with a couple of projects of my own that kept me busy. But no more excuses, let’s get a move on. Saw a quite a lot of small-scale productions over the north-east, all of which deserve feedback, so I’d better make a start. I had quite a busy September with five local fringe productions seen, excluding mine.

Remember, I only review stuff that has merit. It might be what it is now, it might be what it could become, but if I I think you play is irredeemably poor or inescapably mediocre, I won’t be reviewing it at all. plays are listed in chronological order, so don’t read anything else into that. Anyway, here we go.

Beyond the End of the Road wouldn’t normally go into my reviews because I generally don’t review scratch performances. It might influence whether I choose to recommend the final product when it comes, but I normally prefer to deliver a verdict on the final product. However, I’m going to break the rule here because this work in progress from the November Club shows lots of lots of promise.

In a rare break from precedent, this is a north-east theatre group not based in Newcastle; The November Club are instead based in Morpeth. Admittedly, they have imported a lot of the talent from Newcastle; they’ve got a lot of big guns from the Newcastle scene, such as part of The Letter Room (Northern Stage’s first company they set up under the NORTH scheme), and Laura Lindow who has directed many acclaimed productions including Donna Disco. The most high-profile local name is Katie Doherty, who was very heavily Newcaslte-baed but now lives in Northumberland. Crucially, however, this isn’t yet another Newcastle-centric clique painting the entire north-east as generic suburbs of Geordieland. This play, set in rural Northumberland, has made a lot of effort to speak to the communities where the play is set. It seems to me like they’ve done a good job with a convincing depiction, but I should really defer judgement to the Northumbria locals who saw the preview, who gave it a resounding thumbs up. Continue reading

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