The Buxton Fringe survival guide

Two months ago, I had a surprise smash hit on this blog, which was the Brighton Fringe survival guide, which actually got picked up by the Brighton Rringe organisers and got a lot of pageviews. So, in the spirit of innovation and originality, I think I’ll do exactly the same thing again, this time for Buxton’s fringe. This is a practical guide for how to make the most of the Buxton Fringe, and is mainly aimed at people who have already been to the Edinburgh Fringe.

If you’re familiar with both the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes, you will find the Buxton Fringe is lot more like Brighton than Edinburgh. Instead of thousands of shows running the full three weeks, there are dozens of shows all running for a few days – even less than on offer at Brighton. On, the plus side, the people of Buxton are, by all accounts, extremely proud and supportive of their local arts festivals. This somewhat contrasts with Brighton, which has a larger Fringe customer base than Buxton, but where the Fringe punters are vastly outnumbered by people who’ve come to Brighton to get ratted. (This is even true to some extent in Edinburgh.)

Anyway, what I’ve written for Brighton broadly applies to Buxton too, with a few exceptions: for a number of reasons, it’s not quite so weekend-centric as Brighton, and I have a more positive impression of community productions in Buxton than I have for Brighton. But on the whole, expect roughly the same. However, I have a few tips that are specific to Buxton, as follows: Continue reading

What’s worth watching: Buxton Fringe 2013

So, here comes another fringe, which would normally be just another fringe visit for me, but instead it’s a different one because, err, I’m in it. So instead of Buxton being my usual relaxed fringe, you will find me running around tearing my hair out like an over-stressed madman. I do not promote my own work in this blog, so if you want to see what I’m doing you can look here. If you want a list of recommendations that is independent of participants you can see one here. Apparently, I’m on it, which I am of course delighted with, but I must admit I haven’t a clue how that happened. I thought the guys at FringeReview had never even heard of me, let alone formed opinions on my work. But hey, I’m not going to argue.

Anyway, that’s enough self-promotion masquerading as comment about fringe theatre in general. Let’s get on with my picks. So, to repeat the rules yet again: these are recommendations largely based on what I happened to see at previous fringes. I might have seen this play before, I might have seen the same writer/actor/group do something similar, it might be based on good feedback from people whose opinions I trust. But what this does mean is that there are always some excellent plays that don’t make it on to my list because I don’t yet know anything about them. Or, to put it another way, this should be considered a cross-section of what’s out there, not an exhaustive list.

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Concrete and Piss and Time Travel

A common complaint about new plays is that they are rehashes of old ones – but no-one can say that about Alistair McDowall’s Brilliant Adventures.

I may as well dive straight into the story this time. Act one, scene one, Luke is in his Middlesbrough council flat – clearly a flat that no-one else wants. He is a 19-year-old with mental issues and – as sadly is often the case for people growing up in the wrong area – a very bright teenager whose talents are going to waste. His mates and brother have no aspirations above benefits and petty crime. His father his a drug-addled wreck. Scene two, enter a man – well-to-do, from the south, well-spoken, lives in the upstairs flat, offering work for everyone. So the first question is what an obviously wealthy man is doing with a flat in such a deprived area? You might think he’s up to no good, and you’d be right. But there is an even more pertinent question: what on earth is that great big telephone booth-sized cardboard thing doing in Luke’s flat?

Duh! It’s a time machine. Don’t you know anything?

Let’s not understate the skill needed to write a play about a cardboard time machine. When you are watching someone else’s play, it is very tempting to think “I could have thought of that idea”. But it’s one thing to come up with a good idea, it’s quite another to make it work on stage. The challenge here is the common challenge faced by all science fiction stories: you can take massive liberties with the laws of physics – really, what can be a greater liberty than building a time machine in your own flat? – but you cannot take liberties with characterisation. They must remain plausible, and the obvious question is why the inventor of a time machine hasn’t been snapped up by NASA. Alistair McDowall has thought of this, and handled it well. Luke distrusts the whole world (he didn’t even take his GCSEs because he think it’s a waste of time) and doesn’t want to show his invention to anyone. The few mates of his who know about it are too disorganised to do it for him, and besides, if a pair of chavs from Middlesbrough told you they had a mate who’d built a time machine, would you believe them? That was a very skilled bit of characterisation.

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How not to raise a son and heir

Rutherford and Son is little-known 1912 gem by Githa Sowerby. Once again, Northern Broadsides has shown how good they are at reviving forgotten plays.

One complaint I frequently hear is that women don’t get a fair crack at having a career at a playwright – one stat frequently mentioned is that apparently only 17% of performed plays are written by women. But if anyone thinks they’ve got it bad now, it used to be a lot worse. Back in 1912, Githa Sowerby fancied a crack at being a playwright. As a precaution against stupid generalisations about women writers, she chose to play it safe and used the name “KG Sowerby”. The good news was that Rutherford and Son was a smash hit. The bad news was that that is was such a hit everyone just had to find out more about the writer. And they found out what the “G” stood for. And the moment the press knew she was a woman, they did one of the most blatant U-turns in the history of theatre journalism. It didn’t kill her career as such, but she never reached the same heights again, moved into children’s writing, and died at the age of 93 believing that no-one was interested in her work any more.

However all is not lost. After her death, her work was rediscovered by a number of groups, and the latest group to rediscover this play is Northern Broadsides, who have quite a speciality in reviving forgotten plays. And, quite frankly, all those people who dismissed her work out of hand were fools, because she paint a very convincing portrait of of life in a family like Rutherford’s. It is widely believed that John Rutherford is based on Githa’s own grandfather, who reputedly ran both his glass-making business and his family with an iron fist. Same goes for John Rutherford, who aided by a nit-picking sycophantic sister, refuses to acknowledge the wife of one son who married a girl from a lower class without permission, rubbishes his other sons’s career as a priest (admittedly not a successful job when the whole town hates your father), and keeps his ageing daughter under lock and key.

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What’s worth watching: summer 2013 (and some news)

Okay, sorry for the slowness of the next instalment of what’s worth watching. As some of you will be aware, I have another project eating up all my time. And by the time I got round to writing this, spring has come and gone (if you’re using the meteorlogical definition of spring), so spring/summer 2013 is now more like summer 2013.

And this is going to be a short list because I didn’t pick out many things to put on the list this time. That doesn’t mean we’ve got a disappointing summer of theatre ahead, just that most of the stuff coming up I’m don’t know enough about to endorse yet. I won’t know one way or the other until I’ve seen it. As always, if I see something really good I’ll announce it as soon as possible. But in my rather short list: Continue reading