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:

What’s worth watching

It’s Live Theatre’s programme that has grabbed my attention the most this season. It’s always difficult to tell with Live because they take so many risks it’s hard to guess in advance what’s going to work out. But I’ve got a good hunch about Brilliant Adventures. Difficult to tell exactly what this play is about, but it seems to be something to do with a teenager on a deprived Middlesbrough housing estate escaping reality with space adventures with no regard for those absurd laws of physics. A big thing is being made of writer Alastair Macdowall being the 2011 winner of the Bruntwood Prize, on the the most prestigious playwriting competitions in the country. I am a little sceptical about these sorts of credentials myself. This is a little hypocritical coming from someone who is currently using his success in People’s Play as publicity for next month’s Buxton Fringe, but playwriting competitions can be arbitrary. If the judges want to impose their tastes on the public and pick whichever play most closely matches the pre-determined format they wanted, they can. Was my play that got the the finals of the People’s Play one of those? I hope not – I’d like to think it did well because it was good – but honestly I don’t know.

But I have heard a lot of good things about Alastair Macdowall from a lot of sources. This too needs treating with some caution – it’s easy to lazy reviewers to jump on a bandwagon once a playwright wins a competition – but this goes way beyond what I’d expect from a bandwagon effect, and includes people whose opinions I trust. For me, the clincher is the all-round praise from the Buxton Fringe, four clear years after he took a play there. At the small fringes, there is no safe bubble of reviewers and theatre professionals dictating how good you are – you need the thumbs up of a real audience. And to get thumbs up of a real audience – especially one who has the choice of plenty of other decent plays – he must be doing something right. It’s aleady started running and goes on until the 15th June. Will it live up to the hype? I will report on this soon.

Also grabbing my attention at Live is Tyne. This is a play based on local history, and it may surprise you to learn it’s set around the banks of the Tyne, and is essentially a compilation of real stories from people who have written for Live over its 40-year history. This is, quite fittingly, part of Live’s 40th birthday celebrations. It’s also part of the Festival of the North East – I have some reservations about this festival, but I will return to that another day.

The reason I am recommending this is that the writer for this is Michael Chaplain, who did A Walk On Part back in 2011, which is probably the most successful Live play of recent years, and, in my opinion, the best play of Live’s I seen. Although Michael Chaplain is only adapting other people’s stories for the stage rather than writing his own story, this is playing to his strengths, because A Walk On Part itself was an adaptation of Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin’s diaries. Most new plays at live are at least a bit of a gamble to watch, but if you want to be sure of a good play, this is the one for you. It runs from the 27th June to the 20th July.

And finally, in case you haven’t already read the extremely exciting news, Bite Size is finally coming to Newcastle. Regular followings of this blog will know I rave about these sets of ten-minute plays, but so far, if you live in the north-east like I do, you have to journey to Edinburgh or Brighton to see this. It’s in Newcastle Theatre Royal’s studio on the 28th and 29th of June. Yes that’s two nights only. Do not miss this, like not even if you’re being eaten by feral rats. I know which five plays are going on tour and they are very very funny. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, Vintage is part of the touring set.

UPDATE 27/06/13: Just got a message from Nick Brice. It’s been postponed, owing to external circumstances. Pants. But he assures me they’re looking to catch up later in the year.

Speaking of Vintage, if you’re wondering what happened to Lucy Kaufman, who disappeared off the Bite-Size radar after her World War Two-themed plays last year, no, she has not vanished completely. This year, she’s been working with a London-based group called MyLovelyProductions with a play called Chasing Rainbows. It’s not clear at this stage when or where the play is going to be, but there’s a rehearsed reading coming imminently with a full production shortly after, as I understand it. They are bring cryptic about what this play’s about, but they’ve been doing some teaser photos like the one on the right. That, by the way, is not an old photo they’ve lifted from an archive – that is a modern photo with the help of painstaking make-up and photo-editing wizardry.

I’m as much in the dark about this as everyone else, but the one thing I would advise Vintage fans is that this play is almost certainly not going to be an extended version of Vintage. All of her plays written for Bite-Size last year were serious ones, very unlike her funny smash hit from the year before. And attempting to extend a ten-minute sketch to two hours would probably have been a bad idea. Beyond that, all I know (according to my sources) is that it is a “backstage musical within a backstage musical about Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr”. Don’t know if I’ll get to see this one – London is a bit out of the way from Durham – but I’m definitely curious.

Some other news

One other group I’ve been keeping an eye on since a Fringe is Sparkle and Dark, of The Clock Master and The Girl With No Heart fame. They’ve been working on a new play called Killing Roger. Two things I know about this play. Firstly, this play is down as not for children. Unfortunately, I have a completely infantile sense of humour and as soon as I hear the concept of a puppet show not for children, I imagine jokes along the line of “Hurr –  hurr – hurr … That puppet – he’s got … NO CLOTHES on – you can see his … WILLY! [Cue immature chortling for ten minutes.]” (That’s probably more Boris and Sergey‘s speciality.) Apparently, that’s on completely the wrong track. Killing Roger instead touches on the themes of euthanasia. I’m not sure if this is any worse that The Girl With No Heart which involves dying from radiation poisoning in a family-friendly manner, but Louisa and Shelly from Sparkle and Dark insist it is. We’ll see.

The other interesting this is that unlike their previous two works, Louisa Ashton has not written this one. Instead, it is written by Lawrence Isley and Shelley-Knowles Dixon, the company’s musical director and director. This is a gamble, but probably a wise move. No matter how good your resident writer is – and if the success of these two plays is anything to go by, Louisa is a metaphorical goose laying golden eggs – in the long term it’s not a good idea to be dependent on one person. Even the best writers only have a finite number of ideas they can make into plays, and there should always be more to a theatre company than the writer. Can this be as good as Louisa’s work? It’s a tough one, but they’re doing something right because they’ve scooped funding from the Wellcome trust to take this to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Finally, a bit of interesting news from the Stephen Joseph Theatre. One sort-of notable absence from the programme is Artistic Director Chris Monks. Having always contributed at least one play and one musical per summer season (usually more), this time there’s nothing of his in the programme. That’s not really significant in itself. Chris Monks’s reason is that he needs a break, I believe him, and I don’t blame him. To cover for the absence of Chris Monks, Alan Ayckbourn is working a little harder than usual this year, doing not only his usual old play and new play, but also the pair of one-acts that become a regular fixture of the summer season. So much for a retirement.

But the most interesting addition to the programme is John Godber, who is directing a new play called Muddy Cows. (Unfortunately, this has Abi Titmuss in the cast. Now, it’s unfair to dismiss someone’s acting ability just because she used to be a pointless celebrity famous for getting her tits out. I also further accept that where I have seen Abi Titmuss in the cast list of a play, it’s a part that would suit her. But on the minus side … there’s Abi Titmuss in the cast. Anyway …) What’s most interesting is where John Godber is going, and more importantly, where he’s not going. Last year, John Godber did a mixture of John Godber company, Watershed productions and the one-acts at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. With Andrew Smaje leaving Hull Truck – thought by many to be the reason Godber quit Hull Ttuck in the first place – was this a sign than John Godber was about to make a return? It looks like the answer is no – seems that the Stephen Joseph Theatre has snapped him up instead.

Should these new Ayckbourn and Godber plays be on the What’s Worth Watching list? Difficult to tell – you normally don’t know which new Ayckbourns and Godbers stand out from the crowd until you see them. But I wait with interest.

There you go. Coming very soon, my recommendations for Buxton Fringe.

3 thoughts on “What’s worth watching: summer 2013 (and some news)

  1. Walter June 14, 2013 / 11:29 am

    So. Chris-Neville Smith reckons Abi Titmuss will bring down the play Muddy Cows at the Stephen Joseph Theatre this summer with her acting!
    If instead of judging her for her glamorous modelling career(which happened to be a phenomenal success) and her private life which some Louse with a resentment invaded, stole and revealed on the internet(which she had the strength and courage to bounce back from, as she had done nothing wrong), he should instead look closely at Abi’s “acting skills” in her performances such as Casualty, Lady Macbeth, Up n Under etc and he will see that she is a fine committed young actress who gives absolutely everything to all her performances and will greatly improve if continuously given more chances.
    Personally, I think she would be the Ideal BOND GIRL.!!

    • chrisontheatre June 14, 2013 / 9:44 pm

      Excellent! At last, we have a debate. Those who have been following my blog will have noticed by now that I have a lot of frustrations with how theatres operate, and frequently make off-the-cuff flippant remarks. However, since we’ve brought this subject up, I should probably expand on what my issues are.

      I have nothing against Abi Titmuss as an individual actress. I do, however, have a deep-rooted suspicion of plays that cast people famous for appearences in non-stage acting such as soaps, or worse, famous for things totally unrelated to acting. When you’re using big celebrity names as your selling point, that’s a warning sign that they don’t need to make an effort to make the play any good. I also really don’t like the whole culture of being famous for being attention-grabbing – and in my opinion that’s broadly how the glamour model business works if you want to get to the top.

      The other thing I have a problem with is every opportunity for someone who used going topless or naked as a stepping stone for a career as an actress is one less opportunity for someone who didn’t, but that’s a wider issue than ex-glamour models and I’ll come back to that another day.

      On the other hand, I have seen a lot of plays by both the Stephen Joseph Theatre and John Godber, and I have never seen them use big celebrity names to fill bums on seats. They do sometimes cast actors best known for parts in (usually dreadful) soaps, but they don’t make a big thing of it and give them the same prominence as the lesser known actors. So I would hope that John Godber made the casting decision on her own merits rather than revenue-chasing, but we’ll see.

      I am strongly of the opinion that any celebrity, no matter how deeply they got themselves entrenched in pointless celebrity antics, should always have the option to walk away from this and start afresh in a new career. Unfortunately, all too often these people use their status as someone famous for being famous as their selling point for whatever they do next (Jordan is the obvious offender here). It’s often hard to tell one from the other. Anyway, I will probably see Muddy Cows when it comes, so I will be able to decide for myself in due course.

  2. Lucy Kaufman June 22, 2013 / 6:09 pm

    Hi Chris. If you’re in Edinburgh this year though, I’ve got two short comedies coming up there as part of Bite-Size. They’re not Vintage, but I do have a soft spot for both. I will keep you updated re. Chasing Rainbows…

Comments are closed.