Goodbye to Pauper’s Pit

UPDATE: This is an old page about Pauper’s Pit when it looked like it was going to close after the 2013 Buxton Fringe. As it turned out, we all spoke to soon, as you can read here. Anyway, this is the original story:

One bit of theatre news I’ve neglected to mention is one small but sad bit of news from Buxton Fringe. 2013 will be the final year that Pauper’s Pit in the Old Hall Hotel is used as a venue. After that, it’s apparently being converted into a hot tub or spa or something as part of a property development.

Normally, this sort of thing isn’t really news. Across the Fringes, old venues close, new ones take their place. However, Pauper’s Pit is no ordinary venue. This space is considered the definitive venue of the Buxton Fringe for years. And along with the Barrel Room and the bar connecting the two serving as the Fringe Club, this had acted as the focal point for the whole Fringe. The whole lot is going in the redevelopment, leaving the Buxton Fringe without its star attraction.

Continue reading

The tragedy version of Hay Fever

Noel Coward is not all light frivolous entertainment. See The Vortex if you don’t believe me.

One of my pet hates is wooden formulaic amdram. This typically involves using the same few authors from the same set list of works deemed to be permissible for amdram. You will often see me write a play off when I go “Oh no, not another bloody Priestley” or “Not a bloody Christie”. And you will often see me put Noel Coward on this list. But that’s not a reflection on Coward itself – only the way his plays are routinely typecast is light farce. He is actually one of the playwrights I have the most respect for. When the rest of the country was united in celebration in 1938, he was one of the few to suggest maybe a deal with Hitler wasn’t such a good idea – and so bagged place on the Nazi death list. His songs went far beyond entertainment like Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage – he could switch between being bitingly satirical and movingly sentimental, and did a few you’d never guess were his.  (And, okay, he eventually became a tax dodger, but let’s skip over that. Tax dodgers weren’t such big hate figures back them.)

The Vortex is one of Coward’s earliest plays, written the same time as Hay Fever. In one way, the two plays have a lot in common. In Hay Fever, the story centres round the Bliss family, all complete drama queens, immersing themselves into one overblown affair after another, with scarcely a real sentiment or emotion amongst them. Likewise, in The Vortex the story centres on Florence and Nicky Lancaster a mother and son very similar to their Hay Fever equivalents. But there is one very important difference between the two. The Bliss family blissfully live in a bubble of self-delusion that no-one or nothing can burst. Not so for the Lancasters. Reality catches up, and when the bubble bursts, it bursts in the cruellest possible way. For Florence is a model/socialite desperately trying not to grow old through affairs with men now as young as her own son. Nicky is slowly wrecking his own life through drugs, lack of ambition, and an ill-considered engagement. And Florence’s husband David, far from living in his own fantasy world, is reduced to a broken man by his wife’s infidelity.

Continue reading

Stephen Joseph’s secret weapon

Everybody knows the runaway success of The Woman in Black. But few people know this play’s humble origins.

West End: Glamour. Glitz. Big casts. Lavish sets. Celebrity names up in big flashing lights. Uber-expensive special effects. Live music, featuring the songs of Queen/Westlife/Jedward. One thousand Vietnamese children dressed in rags swarm the stage. (The last one has so far only been done in a Litttle Britain sketch, but I’m sure they’re working on it.)

Fringe theatre: No glamour. No glitz. No celebrity names. Little or no set. Tiny cast: talented drama graduates if you’re lucky, pretentious students if you’re not. If it’s a good play, compensate for all of this with good acting, a good script, innovative directing, and careful and cunning use of basic lighting and sound effects.

Stephen Joseph theatre: Where Alan Ayckbourn does his stuff.

These three don’t really have much in common with each other. Or do they? Let’s take The Woman in Black, which I’ve just seen for the second time, this time at Darlington. This play is now in its 21st year at the Fortune Theatre, whilst simultaneously touring the country to packed theatres. Oh, and it’s apparently the 5th longest-running West End show of all time, between Blood Brothers and Cats. In short, this is what every producer dreams of.

Continue reading

100% is too much

COMMENT: The arts have to take their fair share of cuts along with everyone else – but the 100% proposed by Newcastle City Council is going way too far.

At the moment, everybody who’s anybody is sticking their oar in to protest against the proposed 100% cut to Newcastle City Council’s arts budget. This is gone way beyond a local campaign, and has been grabbing the attention of national media and national celebrities. I’m not really one for leaping on to bandwagons, but on this occasion I have to say I am in broad agreement with – well, pretty much everyone else.

Continue reading