Wednesday 21st October: Some more breaking news from Brighton Fringe now, and this time it’s not good. I’d suspected this might have happened but I refrained from speculating – unfortunately, the thing I was worried about is happening.
You may have noticed that one notable absentee from Brighton – both the official fringe and unofficial offshoots – is the Rialto Theatre. I’ve not heard a peep from the Rialto Theatre since July; however, I did hear directly they weren’t going ahead because social distancing would have made it unviable for both the venue and performers. I must say I do feel that in general there’s been too much haste to declare productions unviable. If by “viable” you mean turn a profit, almost all fringe productions are unviable; money is rarely the purpose of the performance. Not sure about viability of the venues themselves, but you need to compare the (probably negative) cash flow of keeping the door closed versus the (probably negative but not necessarily so much) cash flow of opening and doing what you can. That said, my feeling is that the real deal-breaker here wasn’t so much money but practicalities. With the theatre being at the top of a narrow staircase and a busy road outside the front, managing social distancing is probably somewhere between nightmare and impossible.
However, it now turns out that’s the least of the problems. I was beginning to wonder when the list Brighton venues happily acknowledging receipt of Coronavirus Recovery Funds excluded the Rialto. I was hoping it was because they didn’t apply because they didn’t need the money, but I’m now hearing that’s wrong on both counts. We now have to start thinking about the worst-case scenario. I hardly need say that losing the Rialto would be a great loss to the Brighton Fringe, and from that a loss to theatre in general. Brighton Fringe is an important cultural feeder and the variety offered by three significant theatre-programming venues makes a big difference. I really hope Brighton pulls out its finger to keep the Rilato going.
The good news is that the Rialto has a much better chance of getting through this if it’s the only venue in this position. As I previously said, people can be very generous with crowdfunders if the venue has earned a lot of respect, but there is only a finite amount of generosity to go round. A single venue seeking rescue from closure has a good chance – several venues seeking rescue from closure at the same time: much less chance. A lot now rests on the Rialto’s next move. There’s still everything to pay for, but no room for complacency.
Monday 19th October: As we move into the home stretch of a postponed Brighton Fringe we hit another one-off: Brighton Fringe co-inciding with Brighton Horrorfest. Halloween insists it is going ahead on October 31st as planned, and Horrorfest – normally a Sweet Venues Brighton venture taking place far out of fringe season – is temporarily part of the festival fringe diary.
Most of Horrorfest won’t be found in the fringe programme, but you can see what’s on here. I have to say, I do think Brighton Fringe has missed a trick here, with high registration fees putting off many would-be registrants from bumping up the fringe’s numbers. Ignoring that, Jekyll and Hyde and Unquiet Slumbers are the most obvious two, but Fright Wig is also worth a punt. I saw this last year and their twisted monologues should suit Halloween very well. I will give reminders for all of these as we approach the day.
The good news is that any performers who are rusty from an enforced six-month break doesn’t need to worry if they can’t remember the lines. Just go on stage, say you’re an anti-masker, and cough continuously. They’ll be shitting themselves.
Friday 16th October: We have some news back from Brighton. Electric Arcade have announced their first live event. On its own, it’s not that big a deal (it’s a continuation of The Late Show that ran at The Warren Outdoors over the last two months), but is the first test of a place we could be hearing a lot more of next year.
2020 was supposed to be the big year for Electric Arcade. Intended as The Warren’s year-round venue, it was going to be part of their Brighton Fringe programme in May before everything got put on hold, only to suddenly become an indispensable part of The Warren Outdoors in August and September. The Electric Arcade bar became the Warren Outdoors bar, whilst the rooms that would normally be the two spaces took on a temporary use as dressing rooms. But this meant that the venue itself was only a footnote in the proceedings of an extraordinary summer.
However, now that the Warren has been packed up for the year, Electric Arcade stays as a stand-alone venue. I was wondering if Electric Arcade might announce a Brighton Fringe line-up at the last moment, maybe on a similar scale to Sweet Werks, but I guess the folks at The Warren were too busy running a big outdoor venue to get another venues running straight after. Instead they’ve been doing a low-key screening of LGBT films in one of their spaces.
Tomorrow, however, they throw their hat into the year-round fringe theatre ring. My guess is that this is primarily a pilot performance to see how social distancing is going to work there, but assuming all goes well, we can expect more regular performances over the next few months. And when normal Brighton Fringe comes round next May, this will be an interesting addition to their big pop-up venue. It may even be a good home for plays that previously weren’t workable within Warren spaces because of noise bleed.
I’ve gone home so I can’t check it out, but feel free to check this out for me and report back. Failing that, feel free to pop in there for a drink (if the zombie apocalypse hasn’t already started where you are). I think it’s a pretty cool place, and it could be a big hang-out next May.Continue reading