Roundup: Buxton Fringe 2017

Rotunda and Old Clubhouse

REVIEWS: Skip to And the Rope Still Tugging Her Feet, Call Mr. Robeson, Bouncers, We Lost Elijah.

Ah well, better late than never. At least I can get this out before the registrations open for Buxton Fringe 2018. Apologies for everyone waiting for a review. Usual excuse applies over my ridiculously busy summer. I have learnt my lesson.

So, I’ll leap into reviews in a moment, but before that, a few thoughts on how the fringe went as a whole. This was the most unpredictable fringe for years, firstly due to the delayed but expected loss of Pauper’s Pit and the Barrel Room, and the second unexpected twisted: the arrival of the 110-seat Rotunda. In my preview of Buxton Fringe, I had a look at the changing face of the fringe, looking at who was going to which venues. The headline is that in spite of the loss of a major performing space, the fringe has grown, through a mixture of the arrival of the Rotunda, smaller non-managed venues being stretched to the limit, and the shrinkage at Underground Venues mitigated with some very tight programming. I won’t repeat the details, all that remains is a postscript of how the two major venues fared. Continue reading

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Odds and sods: September 2017

Been a while since I’ve done an odds and sods, what with Edinburgh and Brighton coverage keeping me busy over most of the summer. Last one was June, which now seems to be a distant memory. As usual, not a lot happens in September, with most of the performing arts world in hibernation at the Edinburgh Fringe. But a few things have been happening, and there’s also some post-fringe fallout from some of the more, ahem, “interesting” discussions.

Things that happened in September:

Ladybirdgate Mark II

Greedy lawyers. Relevance to story unknown.

This is actually an event that happened in the run-up to the Edinburgh Fringe rather than after that I somehow missed in spite of it registering on Fringepig’s radar. But it’s on the subject of corporate censorship, a close third of the things I loathe in the arts, after religious censorship and political censorship. According to Fringepig (and proper websites too). One play showing at Edinburgh was Four Go Off on One, a Famous Five parody, and if you’re wondering why they didn’t use the less confusing title of Five Go Off on One, it’s because they got legal threats from Hachette Book Group. Amarous Prawn offered a compromise to rename themselves to The Reasonably Well Known Five: An Unofficial, Unlicensed and Unrestrained Parody. Hachette wouldn’t have it because, to borrow the observation of Fringepig, they seem to think they have exclusive worldwide rights to the number five. Continue reading

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15 (mainly off-message) tips about playwriting

In true fashion, now that I finally have some time to catch up on my massive backlog of reviews, what better way to spend it than procrastinate with something completely different instead? But it’s been ages since I’ve done a tips article, and I’ve been meaning to write something like this for some time.

My all-time smash hit in the tips category was 10 common beginners’ mistakes in playwriting, which has been picked up by numerous professional organisations and this year is my most viewed article of all. Interestingly, even though this is one of my earliest articles, I haven’t changed my views on any of these. However, although these were views I formed of my own accord, almost all of this is conventional wisdom held throughout the theatre world.

This time, I am going off-message. These tips are opinions I’ve formed of my own accord, with few or no people to back me up. Some things I will say here are at odds with conventional wisdom – others are issues where few people express an opinion either way. Also, unlike my smash hit blog post where I stuck to the writing itself, this list covers a wider range of topics,  including getting it produced and being a writer in general. Some tips are based on mistakes I’ve seen other people make; many tips, however, I’ve learned from bitter experience. There is going to be a lot of theatre politics; apologies for anyone who finds this boring, but don’t think you can be immune to theatre politics. At least know the rules before you break them.

I also have no idea whether this is going to be greeted with widespread support or division and controversy. But this is something you can expect with someone who treats the whole industry with a healthy amount of scepticism. So without further ado, here we go:

1: Be prepared for this to take over your life.

If there’s one thing I wish we would tell aspiring playwrights before they get started, it’s this. One of the many bones I have to pick with professional theatres’ introductions to playwriting and the like is that they over-sell the benefits of becoming a playwright. You will often hear the success stories of writers who started off on these courses and went on to great things. You rarely hear what happens to everybody else. In reality, you can expect the vast majority to be inspired by the course and get writing – and then see everything they submit rejected, rejected and rejected again. Until they lose heart and give up the whole idea.

In a way, they are the lucky ones. After a series of disappointments based on over-hyped expectations, they get to carry on with their lives. A different fate awaits the few who actually get somewhere. If you’re one of those people, you can expect, for better or worse, that theatre takes your life over. Continue reading

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Around the World with Little Voice

SKIP TO: Around the World in 80 Days, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Apologies to everyone who’s been waiting on reviews – I have been directing a play which just went insane with its workload, and I’ve had little time for anything else. But I’ve finally got this out of the way, and I’ve manage to upgrade  sanity level up from “gibbering wreck” to “slightly less gibbering wreck”. So now’s as good a time as any to catch up, in a sort-of chronological order.

So, in early July, I caught two plays in the round as part of a round trip involving the Buxton Fringe launch, a visit to a sister and a photo stop in the Pennines. Both were high-profile shows and both are revivals, so there’s little need for me to give either constructive advice or encourage people to come along, but here’s my verdicts nonetheless.

Around the World in 80 Days

img_6331-1170x780Jules Verne’s famous circumnavigation-themed novel is a tough to to adapt faithfully. So detailed is the story that it’s next to impossible to capture the train-by-train-by-boat-by-train-by-elephant etc. epic in that level of detail. In fact, one of the biggest oddities is that some people consider the most accurate adaptation to be the 1980s children’s series Around the World with Willy Fogg. Even though all the characters are animals and they introduced extra characters such as the sneaky master of disguise wolf Transfer who tries and fails to sabotage the journey every episode, the 26-episode format meant the whole journey could be captured very faithfully. But this is theatre, where you have two and a bit hours, trains and boats on stage are not an option, and getting a lion to play Mr. Fogg is unworkable for several reasons. Continue reading

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What’s worth watching: autumn/winter 2017

Oh heck, is it September already? Okay, let’s get a move on, because autumn and winter tends to be my busiest season for plays that catch my eye. As always, a reminder that this should be treated as a cross-section of what’s worth seeing rather than a definitive and exhaustive list. There are always some excellent plays going on that don’t make it to this list simply because I don’t know enough about them. Check my recommendations policy if you want a longer explanation for how this works.

Right, let’s get straight to it.

Safe choices:

Four plays make it to safe choice this time. A lot of them are plays that I saw before and loved, but plays can also make it to this list on the strength of the script or the performer if I’ve heard enough. Whatever the reason, these are plays that I’m confident you will like if you like the sound of the description of the play, and is also expected to have wide appeal. They are:

Taking Steps

https://newimages.bwwstatic.com/upload11/1646897/tn-500_9takingsteps,writtenanddirectedbyalanayckbourn,inrepatthestephenjosephtheatre,scarborough,from13julyto5oct,fromleft,russelldixon(roland),antonyeden(tristram),laurencepears(mark).jpgThis was previously recommended in my spring/summer recommendations, but this is a play on a long run stretching into autumn, so in it goes again. To repeat this quickly, Taking Steps is unusual for an Ayckbourn play in that it’s one of the few plays of his that really only works when staged in The Round – this one being three storeys of a house all playing on the same level on the stage – so if you only see one production of this play, see this one. Just don’t expect this to be a light-hearted undemanding Ayckbourn farce, because that does exist. It runs until 5th October on various dates at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

The Wipers Times

https://www.bestoftheatre.co.uk/images/shows/production/resized/580x390/6084-1490695551-dan-tetsell-and-james-dutton-the-wipers-times-photograph-by-alastair-muir.jpgIn general I don’t pay much attention to touring shows that have already had a decent West End run, because they get more than enough attention without my help, but I had to include this play about the satirical magazine said to be the forerunner to Private Eye. At least, that’s what Ian Hislop thinks, having penned the play with co-writer Nick Newman. With World War One possibly the lowest point in British history for freedom of the press, especially on the front line of the trenches, this sort of rag couldn’t have been popular with all the top brass in the military. Or it could have been argued as morale booster for men badly needing camaraderie to get through the war. It seems that argument won, as the magazine lasted until the end of the war with two final issues called “The Better Times”. Continue reading

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Edinburgh needs to become evangelical

pope-and-michelangelo

Vice-Pope Eric explaining the true meaning of the Edinburgh Fringe, yesterday.

COMMENT: The Edinburgh Fringe’s renewed commitment to open access is welcome – but they badly need to sell this benefit to other festivals.

In the legendary Brand New Monty Python Papperbok, there’s a panel discussion where Vice-Pope Eric explains the Catholic Church’s current position on sex and marriage. He explains that whilst their stance on sex outside marriage is well-known, what currently concerns them is the uncontrolled prevalence of sex within marriage. That’s not to say they oppose it outright – like it or not, it remains the best method for procreation; whilst they prefer Immaculate Conception to be used wherever possible, the Vatican has been forced to turn a blind eye to this matter, but only for outnumbering purposes mind, never for fun. When queried about where this was mentioned in Jesus’s teachings, however, his Vice Holiness admits that it wasn’t in his teachings as such, but it was an oversight they were quite happy to correct, by using St. Paul’s later writings and passing that off as Jesus’s own words quite successfully.

The relevance to the Edinburgh Fringe might not be immediately relevant here, but bear with me.

When Shona McCarty took over as the new chief executive of the Edinburgh Fringe, the first thing she did was stress her commitment to keeping the fringe open access. One year on, and it looks like she means business here. I’ve been a little sarcastic over the catchphrase “Alliance of Defiance” (a bit difficult to portray yourself as anti-establishment when you are the establishment), but I fully agree with the sentiment behind it: the true roots of the fringe is those original eight groups who turned up to Edinburgh in defiance of the International Festival who wouldn’t programme them and expected them to stay home. This story, along with the bit that these eight groups received no encouragement from the rest of the arts world, even appears on the website to all new visitors. Continue reading

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What’s worth watching: Edinburgh Fringe 2017

fringe-chris-scott

Skip to: Bite Size, Call Mr. Robeson, The Jurassic Parks, Police Cops in Space, Replay, Izzy’s Manifestoes, The Friday Night Effect, Gratiano, The House, Mars Actually, No Miracles Here, The Empress and Me, Labels, Your Ever Loving, Give Me Your Love, The Writers’ Room, You, Me and Everything Else, Boris and Sergey, Imaginary Porno Charades, The Dark Room, Doktor James’s Academy of Evil, Knightmare Live, Morgan and West, Murder’ She Didn’t Write, Notflix, The City, The Divide

Edinburgh fringe has already started, and I still haven’t written up these recommendations. Let’s get started then. Here’s a list of things coming up at Edinburgh which I can recommend seeing for various reasons. You can find the full rules for how I choose what to endorse in my Recommendations Policy, but the main thing to remember is that is a cross-sections of good plays, not an exhaustive list. In particular, for Edinburgh I have a rule that recommendations are only given to groups I’ve seen before. I’ve heard a lot of good things about other groups, but if I was to include them the list would get unmanageably long.

No major changes since previous fringes to report this time, so let’s get straight to it. All plays run the entire length of the fringe unless otherwise noted. Continue reading

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