Rod Liddle doesn’t understand freedom of speech

COMMENT: Controversial speakers have free speech to express their views, but the people you’re talking to have free speech to make it clear what they think. Especially a speaker who thinks he’s entitled to talk down to people who never asked for him.

And now, a rare post on this blog: a post about neither theatre nor anything else in the arts. The reason I’m doing this is that, as well as christontheatre being a theatre blog, it is also an anti-censorship blog. Normally, I am anti-censorship in the name of artistic freedom, but I am also pro freedom of speech in general. Until, now, however, everything I have written has been in support of people on the receiving end of censorship. This time, however, I am going to be singling out someone who thinks his right to free speech is being infringed when it isn’t. There are a lot of people like him, they give free speech a bad name, and it is in the interests of anyone who values free speech to stand up to this bullshit.

The reason I’m taking action over this one is because I’m doing something I’ve criticised other people for not doing: speaking out when things you say you care about happen on your doorstep. This relates to a shitstorm going on at my old university which I still have connections to. Tim Luckhurst, the principal of South College (the newest college of Durham University), invited a speaker for the end-of term Christmas formal dinner. Normally a non-issue, interesting and entertaining speakers (along boring, unfunny and incomprehensible speakers) come to dinners all the time. However, this speaker was Rod Liddle, who made exactly the kind of speech you’d expect Rod Liddle to make. Contrary to what some people think, the students of Durham University are not a bunch of ultra-right-wing Katie Hopkins worshippers and this speech went down like a lead balloon. This has escalated into widespread calls for Luckhurst to be sacked.

I will give my 2p’s worth on that row later, but what I’m really interested in is Rod Liddle’s reaction to this. He is demanding an apology from Durham University and implying that his right to free speech has been infringed. Now, there are some valid criticisms to be made of the anti-Liddle protests, but that does not stop Rod Liddle being wrong. For the reasons I will go into, Rod Liddle has not had his free speech infringed – and, if anything, he is the one who lacks respect for free speech. Here’s why.

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Vault Festival 2022 cancelled, Vault Festival 2023 in the balance?

With 2021 written off as “2020, the sequel” in theatre, hope were pinned on a better 2022. The last thing anyone wanted was “2020 part 3: the nightmare continues”. Now, we’re barely into the new year, and we’ve got a dose of the latter. With only three weeks before its launch, Vault 2022 has been cancelled in its entirety. Worse, this was supposed to be the big relaunch. Whilst Brighton Fringe 2020 and Edinburgh Fringe 2021 were happy to downplay expectations and carry on with the few acts who still wanted to take part, Vault chose to cancel its 2021 festival back in July 2020 with the intention of a full-scale relaunch for its 10th anniversary year.

The worst news of all, however, is the timing of this. It’s one thing to cancel a big annual event before you’ve even started, but quite another to pull the plug at the last moment. For one thing, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of acts seeing the Vault Festival as the big break only to have it taken away from them at the last moment. That must be gutting. The bigger issue, however, is what happens to the Vault Festival itself. As Stephen Walker observed with relation to Buxton Fringe, most decisions to go ahead or cancel come when a decision has to be made on the money. It’s hard to imagine the Vault Festival could have got this close to a start date without a significant financial investment. Unless they have some very good insurance, that’s not coming back. And, unfortunately, the precedents we have to go on is not good.

But first of all, a look of how we got here.

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Chris Neville-Smith’s 2021 awards

It’s the end of the year, and once more I’m not letting a diminished line-up get in the way of celebrating the best theatre that stood out for me this year. Some people are asking why you should bother with end-of-year best-of lists when it’s an achievement to have put on anything this year at all. That’s a fair enough point, and I have a lot of respect for anyone who’s managed to overcoming all the obstacles to put on any kind play – but there’s always things in any year that stood out and deserve the acclaim for that. When an outstanding play deserves to have praises shouted out from the rooftops, you do nobody any favours by handing out a participation prize instead.

In change to a previously announced arrangement (where I intended to roll over the few plays from 2020 into the 2021 awards), I’ve decided to stick with just 2021 this year. I may do some awards for a combined 2020-2021 later, but for now the same rules apply as last year. With a reduced field of competition, I’m only committing to naming winners – a second place will only be mentioned if it was a close call. This time round, I have something for most of my usual categories, but I’m leaving the odd one out when nothing fits. Disappointment of the Year remains suspended until further notice.

For the second year running, I’m including online theatre. There is a lot of ambiguity here over what can be considered online theatre and what’s just an online video. To keep it manageable, I’m currently counting content that is either a filmed version of an actual stage play, or produced by a group who normally to theatre. No decision over whether to include online in future years as yet – I’ll decide when the time comes.

Introductions completed, let’s begin how we always begin.

Best New Writing

Ofow-production-shot1ne of my highest acclamations, this if for a play whose strength lies in the script. It should be possible for another group to start afresh with the script and still produce something great. This year, there was one thing that stood out. It stands out for reasons other than the script too: I loved the way this was done as a video with the three actors in their own homes. But the clincher for Fow is a tri-lingual play. You can watching this story as an English speaker or a Welsh speaker or a sign language speaker and only pick up part of the story – but the titbits of information you get from your own language, together with visual clues from the other two stories, allows you to fill in the gaps. Alun Saunders’ regular writing (at least the bits I could understand) is also great and put together rounded characters: in English, you get the cynical and apathetic Josh who turns out to be that way for a reason. Writing that is this unconventional is a big gamble: it’s hard to pull off and ruins a play if it doesn’t work out. It’s always difficult in this situation to tell whether the writer knew what he was doing all along, or is was a risk to him too and he had know idea how it would work out. But through boldness or recklessness, Deaf and Fabulous and Taking Flight thoroughly earned the first award.

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Roundup: Edinburgh Fringe 2021

Very depleted What's On board

Skip to: Zumba Gold, Sinatra: Raw, Under Milk Wood, Shook, Northanger Abbey, Skank, Mustard, Fow, The Little Glass Slipper, Mimi’s Suitcase, Myra’s Story, The Event, Madhouse, Patricia Gets Ready, Fear of Roses, Brave Face, On Your Bike

And a final catchup of reviews before we go into the Christmas & New Year period, it’s the Edinburgh Fringe. Most of what you saw here was already in my live coverage, so all that remains here is to put this is some sort of order for posterity.

Credit where it is due. The Edinburgh Fringe held its nerve and salvaged a festival of sorts long after almost everybody had written it off for a second year running. Whilst festivals in England such as Brighton and Buxton were bouncing back, in Scotland there was a ridiculous rule that theatre – and only theatre – had to have a two-metre distance. The reason why this rule didn’t apply to pubs in spite of pubs being a far greater danger was never explained, leading some people to suspect live events were being targetted on purpose as some sort of “bleeding stump” tactic. But at the last moment a bailout from the Scottish Government and, to a lesser extent, a relaxation of the rules (lesser extent because the big venues had factored in two metres by this point), allowed something to go ahead.

Inevitably, a last-minute fringe could only be a fraction of the size of a normal year. By registrations, it was 20% of a normal year, but many of those were online (more on this later), and those that were in person rarely ran the full festival. As a result, the number of performances of offer each day were tiny compared to before times when you’d have a choice things available in walking distance in the next ten minutes. The audience numbers also plummeted, with those present generally being the hard-core regulars who were determined to be there no matter what.

But – and this is the big but – audience numbers did not fall as much as performance numbers. As a result, the numbers per performance were generally excellent. In 2019, selling a third of your tickets was considered reasonably good – my own observation, backed up by available stats, however, suggested that three quarters full was more the norm here, from the biggest names to the humblest beginners. I suspect a lot of punters who’d decided against taking a play to Edinburgh this year are now wishing they hadn’t. I’m one of those people. The only down-side is that there were times when finding a ticket for anything was a nightmare.

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School of Rock: Jack Black to the max

Everybody rocking

Now for something different from what I normally cover: a touring West End musical from Andrew Lloyd-Webber. This might seem out of kilter with what he’s done before. For the composer of the high drama of Phantom of the Opera and the experimental Cats (that’s the original stage version), a feel-good musical based on a popular film isn’t what I’d expect. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Dewey Finn is a slacker who has been sacked from his job for laziness and kicked out of his band for being an attention-seeker. His ex-rocker housemate and his ex-rocker girlfriends now have steady careers. When he is mistaken for his housemate and gets a supply teaching job in a prestigious private school he decides to recruit the kids into a new band. Will he succeed at form a band of rockers with bangin’ choons? Will Dewey discover for the first time in his life the joys of being looked up to as a role model? Will the parents of these kids who insist on a joyless life of geometry and history of antique furniture be blown away by the most awesomest Battle of the Bands performance and reconnect with the children in a new way? Apologies for giving away the entire plot with these rhetorical questions, but, be fair, it’s an easily guessable plot.

So, why did Lloyd-Webber pick a format so maligned? There is no shortage of films made into West end musicals, most of which are promptly forgotten. The biggest problem I think these shows have is that they specifically worked as films. Especially modern films which increasingly rely on CGI effects to wow cinema audiences. Nine times out of ten, even the best-resourced West End theatre can only produce a worse version of what already exists on screen. The difference here, I think, is an opportunity to do something better. It’s an open secret that most band performances in films are a heavily edited mix of actors pretending to play and session musicians providing a the real. Not nearly as impressive as the real thing. And, as Andrew Lloyd-Webber says at the start of the performance: yes, the kids on stage are really playing the instruments you see.

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Roundup: Buxton Fringe 2021

Buxton Crescent

Skip to: Naughty Boy, Jekyll and Hyde, For I Have Sinned, Mike Raffone’s Great Green Gameshow Giveaway, The Virtuous Burglar

Phew. A lot of catching up to do when you have four fringes in three months, but I’m finally on to Buxton Fringe. In 2020, Buxton Fringe raised a few eyebrows by opting to stick with a July fringe, even if it all had to be done online. However, in line with pretty much everywhere else, the mood by July 2021 was that online was all very well as a stop-gap, but nothing beats the real thing.

Buxton’s fortunes broadly followed the same as Brighton. In theory, Buxton Fringe was down for the first full month of no social distancing, but the venues worked against social distancing anyway – quite wisely, as it turned out. Like Brighton, it wasn’t back to full strength just yet: the Rotunda opted to give 2021 a miss, and the Arts Centre was out of action as Buxton Festival needed the space as part of its own socially distanced plans. This plus reduced participation from groups dented the numbers, but not too badly, with the Fringe managing about 60% of its normal size.

There was just one subtle difference I picked up on the effects on Buxton compared to Brighton. Audience numbers were also down, but roughly down by the same amount as registrations, and the two cancelled out to give audience numbers that were roughly the same, similar to Brighton. But within those figures, there’s a skew with age. Anecdotally, I was hearing that a lot of older Buxton Fringe regulars were choosing to play it safe and give it a miss; if that was the case, it would seem that the younger regulars were more eager to get back to fringing.

Anyway, hopefully those details won’t matter by Fringe 2022. In spite of Omnicrom putting the willies up us this winter, I still think Brighton and Buxton will be in a good position to be back to near-normal by next July. Let’s see what caught my eye this year that might be around next year.

Pick of the fringe:

Firstly, let’s address the same question as Brighton Fringe: am I lowering the bar this year? It is true that my choosiness for Pick of the Fringe varies based on what I have to choose from, but in the end the standard was about the same as years before, even though there were fewer acts to choose from. Two plays made it to the top flight.

Naughty Boy

There are many thing a fringe is ideal for, but responding to current events is rarely one of them. Most plays need a lead-in of least six months if you’re lucky, and by the time you’ve got it in front of an audience the news has long since ceased to be in people’s minds. There’s really only one way to make a fringe event “timely”, and that’s if the topic you’re talking about crops up anyway, and that bit of luck counted in Eddy Brimson’s favour. It was only the month before that football hooligans made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Joe, however, is not your average football hooligan. For some reason, he is in a psychiatric hospital even though he appears perfectly sane. He is also a lot smarter than your average football hooligan, whose silver tongue gets him out of all sorts of scrapes. These two events are connected, but it’s only towards the end what we’ll see how.

The main thrust of the play, however, is an exploration of why people end up this way. Being articulate, Joe has little problem portraying the alienation of people like him in societies than have been written off. This, plus his cynical observations of the society around him, is the easy bit. The hard bit is explaining why you’d consider the solution joining a group of your mates to clout a bunch of strangers who simply support a different team – and he portrays quite a convincing reason. Why take your anger out on another bunch of downtrodden down-and-outs? The reason, the play suggests, is a mutual understanding. Clouting any of the random strangers Joe cynically observes has consequences when the Police get involved, but a rival gang of hooligans are in the same boat as you. Until it escalates.

The backstory of how Joe got where he was is handled well too. The full-journey from innocent childhood to violent embittered adults is not shown in its entirety, but one moment that sticks out is when two wannabe hooligans get set upon by his gang of veteran hooligans – to which Joe observes “Now you have the same anger we do.” The only weak point I’d pick out is the account of the inevitable fight at the end where things tip over to boiling point, which get quite complicated and was narrated through so quickly I lost track of who was fighting who and who suffered what injuries. Other than that, a good all-rounder making a good start to my relaunched fringe viewing.

Jekyll and Hyde: a one woman-show

Now for the big name. I was interested in this one for two reasons. Firstly, this play got going in Brighton Fringe last year and earned overwhelming critical acclaim. Heather Rose-Andrews is rising to be of the most respected names on the Brighton Fringe circuit, but how would she fare away from home turf. The other thing I was interested in is how a gender-swapped Jekyll and Hyde would work. This has been tried a lot with classic stories, and not always successfully. Blackeyed Theatre is currently touring a superb retelling of Jekyll and Hyde which adds in a prominent female character made to look like she was part of the original all along. But this one changes the gender of Dr. Jekyll himself. How much difference does this make to the story?

Well, the answer is the opposite of what I expected: not that much difference at all. To some extent, this is a perfectly plausible treatment of the story – whilst women were certainly treated very differently to men in Victorian society, with Dr. Jekyll already operating outside of society’s conventions it needn’t spell much change. Instead, what’s notable is how much stays the same. Nothing stops a Ms. Hyde being as violent and destructive as a Mr. Hyde. Even the bit from the original where Hyde savages a prostitute – surely there can be no act of violence more misogynistic than that one? – is swapped very convincingly. And Rose-Andrews’ transformation scene from Jekyll in pain to a swaggering Hyde is an astounding moment of theatre.

According to my Buxton radar, this didn’t enjoy the same universal level of praise that this did in Brighton. Gauging reaction from Buxton is harder because there isn’t a range of reviews to go on, but I gather opinion was more divided, and I suspect the weak point was accessibility. Heather Rose-Andrews knows her horror and classic literature inside out, but I suspect she’s assumed a lot of background knowledge of her audience and left some with a lot of catching up to do. It was only quite late in to the play that I realised the tapes she was playing were Jekyll’s instructions recorded for Hyde. One theme of the play is hypocrisy, and as fans of the original will know, Dr. Jekyll overstepped the line long before his alter ego came along – but I fear amongst the confusion of working out what was happening when, I missed whatever the moral of that was supposed to be.

The praise for her performance, however, was unanimous, and deservedly so. In other Sweet Productions play I saw this year, There’s a Ghost in my House, I was convinced that Emily Carding had best individual performance in the bag, but it looks like we have a contest on our hands after all. It is difficult to know if this script could be made more accessible without making it into a different play; it may well be that this will be enjoyed the best by those who know the literature the best. What it does show is that Heather Rose-Andrews, already a fine actor in other people’s plays, is at her strongest when she writes for herself. A lot to look forward to here I think.

Honourable mention:

As there were fewer plays to choose from, I saw more comedy than usual. I’ve left this out as I don’t really know where to start with sketch and stand-up. Again, my bar for honourable mention is about the same as before, and three plays (or two plays plus a character comedy) made it to the list:

For I have Sinned

In Qweerdog Theatre’s play, a man meets a priest in a confession box. As per the protocol he is asked to disclose how long it has been since his last confession, and the answer is decades. What is less clear is what he’s actually making a confession over. He spent a long time as a recluse in Tibet, so we can safely assume he has something more on his conscience that an impure thought whilst watching an Ann Summers advert. Instead, the priest goes for small-talk as a way to delve into the truth. Eventually, the story comes out of a younger boy who thought the world of this man when they were both teenagers. We can already guess this did not end well.

What I really liked about the opening half of the writing is the pace at which the truth comes out. Whenever you think you’ve got to the bottom of his cross to bear, something else comes out, then something else, then something else. But the last piece of the jigsaw to fall into place is the priest’s part in this. An early clue is the man making a quip about seeing if “you’re the right priest for me”, and a more blatant clue is the priest offering full absolution in order to end the confession. I’ll refrain from giving all the details, but there is a reason why it’s this particular priest.

And then comes the frustrating bit: after the first half of the play reveals the back story so well, very little unexpected happens in the second. I fear this script played all its best cards by the half-way point, and the rest of the play is mostly admonishment for the priests past that he continues to deny. Something extra, I feel, is needed to keep up the interest. For what it’s worth, I would have explored the priest’s own intersection between his faith and his morals. Is his lifetime of servitude to the Catholic Church his method of atonement for a past wrong he can never forgive himself for? Or is he one of these completely amoral characters who think it’s okay to hurt and betray whoever you like because you can repent and be absolved later?

Not bad for a Buxton fringe debut though. The strength of the exposition is that is keeps the audience interested, and keeps them guessing. Keep this up in the rest of the play and you’ll have something special.

Mike Raffone’s Great Green Gameshow Giveaway

This is under comedy rather than theatre, but it’s character comedy that has an overlap. Mike Raffone has been carving himself a niche with interactive comedy in the last few years. There are high stakes in interactive comedy – in a conventional play an audience can be unresponsive and still find the story hilarious or moving, but when a performance depends on audience interaction, it dies on its arse if you can’t get them going. I’ve only seen his performances on busy days, but apparently he’s achieved the same on quiet days. Anyway, the thing he’s started this year is a spoof game show.

The game shows it parodies, are the 1970s ones. Apart from the outfits, there are two things that distinguish the game shows of this era. Firstly, all 1970s game shows are required to have a female assistant, who in turn is required to do nothing but announce the scores and pretend to find the sleazy-looking middle-age male host attractive. And certainly not play the flute that Charlotti worked so hard on over lockdown. Secondly, the long-standing in-joke is that all the prizes were worthless, with limit on prizes being £500 and a Skoda or something like that.

Mike Raffone and Charlotti are actually a great double act, and if I didn’t know better I’d have sworn they must have must have performed for years together. The games are far sillier than the games from the game shows (I think they would even give Banzai a run for its money), and the prizes are even more worthless – indeed, one highlight was, when there was a dispute over who won a round, he pointed to an example prize of a slightly broken USB cable to show how little this matters. And the final round, in case you haven’t guessed, is like the conveyor belt from the generation game, but with far cheaper prizes, slightly broken USB cable included. This is such a ideal thing for Raffone it’s a wonder no-one thought of it before, but now that we’ve seen it I hope it this will be back.

The Virtuous Burglar

And finally, one from Buxton regulars Sudden Impulse. They advertise themselves an an amateur company but their standard is so good it’s hard to tell them apart from the pros. I caught one of their two productions this time, and it’s a Dario Fo farce. The description of “farce” is often over-used for plays that were never meant to work as farces, and indeed Dario Fo himself has a strong political strand in most of his farces, but this one is the full-blown farce. A burglar is busy burgling a wealthy house when his wife rings him (this is pre-mobile phones so she is ringing the phone on the house she’s burgling tonight) asking for a present to steal for her. Then the owner of the house returns with a woman who’s not his wife. I don’t need to explain the rest of the plot but basically everybody mistakes everybody’s identity, everybody’s having an affair with everyone, and there’s lots of doors (and inside of clocks) to hide in. The only thing that’s missing is the trousers falling down as the vicar walks in.

Some people say amateur companies shouldn’t do farces. The reason, they argue, is that farces only work if they’re done quickly. Run a farce at a speed the actors are comfortable with and the jokes fall flat, but run it at the required speed beyond the actors’ ability and the production falls apart completely. Sudden Impulse has shown that’s far from the truth. They zip through the lines at the warp speed it was written for, and the movement is choreographed well. In a farce, you only really notice the acting and directing if it goes pear-shaped, so getting through without incident is a bigger achievement that most people realise.

The was, however, one annoying artistic decision, and that was hamming up the characters. No matter how ridiculous the situations are that everybody finds themselves in, farce works best when the characters are believable. It’s never quite as funny if the characters do contrived things to set up the jokes, and better if that’s what they would plausibly have done anyway – but it’s hard to achieve the latter if you present all the characters and caricatures of themselves. And that’s a shame, because straight acting is something Sudden Impulse does well. I say have the courage to apply straight acting to the giddiest farce – you may be pleased with the result.

Postscript: Keith Savage

Keith Savage under an umbrella

As I have already mentioned, circumstances have forced me to write late roundups of the fringes. Since Buxton Fringe happened, there is one notable bit of news, and it’s a sad one. Keith Savage, who was Chair in Buxton Fringe from 2014 to 2019, died unexpectedly this month, and it would be write to close this roundup without a fitting tribute.

Many people have given there own tributes of how supportive Keith Savage was at previous fringes, and my experience was no exception. As both a performer and a theatre blogger he was constantly encouraging what I was doing. This matter a lot. There’s no shortage of arts leaders who fall over themselves to encourage the biggest and best names to their theatres and there festivals, but sadly too few who welcome the people starting off. I cannot begin to describe how much of a difference it makes from my experience back home when you can put so much in without even an acknowledgement of what you’ve done.

Buxton Fringe prides itself on being the friendly fringe, and I even know of performers who’ve decided top give Buxton a go based on my description of what it’s like. I am confident that the Fringe committee will carry on giving the welcome to future performers staring off, but there’s sure no better embodiment of it than Keith Savage, who carried on supporting the fringe and everyone taking part after stepping down.

He has a lot to be proud of. He will be missed.

Odds and sods: November 2021

It’s December, and we’ve had a November which almost looks like business as usual. So let’s do a business as usual roundup of things that have been happening other than plays to review and other things that didn’t warrant entire articles. For those of you who need a refresher, November is my last Odds and Sods of the year, because December is basically pantos and not much else. Let’s dive straight in.

Stuff that happened in November

So the big thing that got me talking was the Royal Court’s ill-judged character on Elon Musk named Hershel Fink. Cue outrage from everyone who thought the Jewish-sounding name was an insinuation that Jews secretly control the world. The Royal Court admitted they got it wrong; some people think that’s the end of the matter, others aren’t so forgiving and think there’s a deeper problem with the Royal Court. I’ve gone further: I suspect this is a problem endemic to the whole of the theatre industry, with the Royal Court merely being the most obvious offender. So what was originally meant to b a couple of paragraphs here became a long-read article in its own right. You are probably not going to like what I have to say. But read it anyway.

Apart from that, this all happened:

Vault Festival returns

festivalpasssmallSo we start the round-up with the news that the Vault Festival is returning in 2022. For festival fringe fans who are new to this, the Vault Festival takes a lot of acts of the length and scale you’d expect to the Edinburgh Fringe – indeed many of the acts go to or form there – but unlike the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s curated. I believe one in six of the applicants get programmed, and realistically there’s no way Vault could run as an open festival. However, until Brighton Fringe gets going in May, this is the closest thing you’re going to get to a fringe.

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Relaunch at the SJT: Girl Next Door and Home, I’m Darling

Skip to: Girl Next Door; Home, I’m Darling

Time for another catchup from my jam-packed summer, as this time it’s over to the Stephen Joseph Theatre. They stood out from the crowd amongst regional theatres, because whilst the festival fringes and West End dived into summer 2021 raring to go, most theatres regional theatres played it safe and waited until the autumn. It should have come as no surprise that the Stephen Joseph Theatre hit the ground running – they make an admirable job of running in 2020 when most theatres wrote it off as a doomed venture.

But whilst there’s been a lot of good will amongst audiences and reviewers, that doesn’t guarantee a good review from me. I’ve already covered their co-production with Live Theatre The Offing (which I bumped forwards as it was still running and deserved some publicity), but now let’s wind back and see how their earlier two productions did.

Girl Next Door

One of the most memorable rallying cries I heard from the start of the pandemic was one that put things in perspective. I’ve lost the original quote but it went something like: “In the 1940s, the British put everything on the line for their future. In 2020, the British need to sit on their arses for a few weeks. Come on chaps, we can do this.” I don’t know if Alan Ayckbourn ever saw this, but it’s as good an inspiration as any for laying the two worlds side by side – literally.

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Never mind Hershel Fink. The entire theatre industry is failing the Jews.

COMMENT: The Rare Earth Mettle debacle exposed that the Royal Court did not take complaints of anti-Semitism seriously – but there’s little reason to believe any other theatre would have behaved any better.

A common mistake made by theatres in the regions is to obsess over the latest drama hitting a London Theatre. Nine times out of ten, it’s a local issue of little consequence elsewhere in the country – or at least not as bad as more serious issues on your doorstep your local theatres are ignoring *cough* *cough* *cough* *cough* *cough*. If this uproar over the naming of a character at the Royal Court was only a London issue, I would quite happily have left it to Londoners to argue over. However, this one I believe goes deeper than a local row. I am in agreement with the majority of people that the Royal Court has screwed up big-time, but I’m not convinced it’s wise to single out one theatre here. I fear this is a symptom of an endemic nationwide problem.

So, for those who need to catch up, this is all about a play at the Royal Court satirising billionaire, master bullshitter and possible Bond villain-in-waiting Elon Musk. Now, I could put a lot of energy into why Hyperloop and all his other miracle transport solutions are bollocks, but that’s a different story completely and not for a theatre blog. Everyone was fine with this play until the name of character based on Musk was announced: Hershel Fink. Cue outrage from all Jews in London (pretty much) for stoking stereotypes. The Royal Court apologised and agreed to rename the character to Henry Finn, which might have settled things down had they not attempted to blame their mistake on “unconscious bias”. Then a Sunday Times article (£) came out that suggested this concern had previously been raised and ignored, prompting a second statement promising to reflect further. It could have been worse, but boy, what a fiasco.

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Back to the main stage: The Offing and Road

Skip to: The Offing, Road

We’ve already had the tentative relaunches of the big two in the north east back in September-October, but now it’s really back to business. It’s not the first time since 2020 we’ve had a play on a main stage – Live has done several by now – but it is the first time we’ve have something on a multi-week run and full budget.

Both theatres went for something that seemed like a safe bet. Northern Stage took a classic play that catapulted a household name playwright to stardom that promised to resonate with the north east; whilst Live Theatre partnered with another theatre to adapt a recent book that took the publishing world by storm. Surely nothing can go wrong?

Well, let’s see how safe these safe bets really were.

The Offing

Although The Offing is a co-production between Live Theatre and the Stephen Joseph Theatre, artistically this very much the product of the latter (with the former sharing the run largely due to the association of Paul Robinson and Graeme Thomson dating back to Theatre 503 days). The early reaction from the SJT half of the run suggested we were in for a good one, and it does not disappoint.

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