Well, it’s been seven months since the Edinburgh Fringe has come and gone, and for some of us that’s just too long to wait. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait much longer, because Brighton Fringe is coming. It’s like the Edinburgh Fringe, but in May. And not in Edinburgh. If you’ve not been to the Brighton Fringe before, I’m hoping to write a guide at some point about what to expect. If you have been before, the change this year is that the fringe now runs for four weeks, with the final week, it appears, taking advantage of half term with a heavily family-oriented programme.
In case you don’t know the rules, these recommendations are acts that I’ve seen before and can recommend. It is by no means an exhaustive list of the best of the Fringe. The majority of theatre listings are plays I’ve never heard of by writers I’ve never heard of performed by groups I’ve never heard of. At least some of those plays will be outstanding – after all, everything I’m recommending was unknown to me once. (And some of the plays I’ve never heard of will be bloody awful, but that’s part of the fun.) But as a cross-section of things to see, here we go.
There are two regulars to the Brighton Fringe that are always worth seeing. Firstly, there’s Bite Size with The Big Bite-Size Breakfast, and not, as some publicity seems to inadvertently indicate, The Big Breakfast, so anyone who was traumatised by Chris Evans first thing in the morning can relax. Bite-Size is a Brighton-based act which is a popular regular at both their own fringe and the big one up north with their sets of 10-minute plays. Last time I checked, there were some doubts about whether they were going to carry on with Brighton Fringe this year, so I’m relieved they’re carrying on as they wouldn’t be sorely missed if they weren’t there.
In the last couple of years, they’ve experimented with some variations of the formats, but this year, it’s back to the tried and tested formula of lots of different plays about anything. It’s admittedly less adventurous that last year’s Vintage-themed set, but there’s no danger of going stale with their old format any time soon. (I’ve not yet picked up any word on whether they’re making progress with their separate Vintage performance they were hoping to start, but I hear writer Lucy Kaufman has a full-length play coming up in London – I will announce it as soon as I find out when.) It’s running on various mornings throughout the fringe, but if you can be in Brighton for Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings in any of weeks 1-3 you’ll catch the whole lot – and, believe me, it is worth catching all of it. In week 4, there will a family-geared set on offer.
The other regular worth catching is Wired, with their consistently good record of site-specific performances around Brighton. This year, it’s a new play Art in Heaven, and once again, I can’t tell you much about this play because their publicity is invariably cryptic. All I know for certain is that it’s set in a art studio, and it’s probably a fair bet that’s you’ll need to concentrate as they don’t do relaxing or undemanding theatre, even though most of the cast are middle-aged. Unlike previous years, this time they’re only running between the 4th and 12th of May, so you’ll have to time yourself for an early visit if this is on your unmissable list. Being site-specific, there’s a limited capacity for each performance, but they do two or three performances per day to cater for the numbers. Book in advance if you want to make sure.
The rest of my recommendations are plays I’ve previously seen at last year’s Buxton or Edinburgh Fringes. A lot of productions aren’t specially staged for the Brighton or Buxton fringes, but instead include them as part of a tour. And one most welcome veteran is Caroline Horton, last seen at Brighton in 2011 with the lovely You’re Not Like the Other Girls Chrissy, and now returning with the excellent Mess, to which I gave a glowing review (and just a reminder that for those northerners not going to Brighton, you can see it at Live Theatre on the 30th April and 1st May, and Stockton Arc on the 2nd May). It’s billed as a play “about anorexia – but don’t let that put you off”, and that is a very accurate description. It is a very moving portrayal about why some people do this to themselves without it being the usual gloomfest. It’s on for just two nights, on the 4th and 5th May.
And the other EdFringe play I gave a glowing review for, Sparkle and Dark’s The Girl With No Heart, is also touring to Brighton on exactly the same dates, the 4th and 5th (sadly, however, they aren’t touring any further north than Lincolnshire). This is a puppetry group that started off with family-orientated entertainment but that progressively moved darker and darker – and indeed, I gather that their latest project, Killing Roger, is not suitable for children at all. The Wrong Crowd’s Girl With the Iron Claws is probably the most high-profile act working to this format, but having seen both, I’ve now arrived at the opinion that Sparkle and Dark do it better.
And finally, Scallywags by SOOP theatre comes to Brighton on the 12th and 19th May. I covered this in my roundup of last year’s Buxton Fringe, and it’s good to see this still going. It’s a play about the Auxilliary units, Britain’s answer to the French resistance, in an imagined Nazi invasion over the Channel. It is a very adventurous production, and I wasn’t entirely sure about the level of slapstick used in it, but the slick choreography of the five actors and the incredibly inventive use of a set of set of cupboards for a multitude of different scenes has to be seen to be believed.
Will I be coming back with more gems on my return from Brighton? Or will this prompt another article moaning about how to ruin a play? Find out in about six weeks’ time.