What I’ve learned from the Buxton Fringe

So, with the Fringe season over for another year, it’s time for a long look back on the season just gone. And for me, the difference this time is that I have been a participant. Now, this is a blog about everyone’s work and not my own, but where I can use my own experiences as help for others, it goes here. So this is a good time to say what I’ve learned from participating in a fringe.

Firstly, a repeat of the obvious. If you fancy organising any kind of fringe theatre, for heaven’s sake go to a fringe festival first and see how other people go about it. In fact, go to several. The more you can learn what works and what doesn’t work from other people, the less you have to rely on your own trial and error. Obvious points include learning to work on a minimal production budget, the importance of top-notch publicity, and doing something that is original without being pretentious – plus, of course, actually producing a decent bit of theatre. I might go over those in more detail another day, but to any fringe regular it would be stating the obvious.

However, this article isn’t about stating the obvious. This is about the little things I learnt from taking part myself, from the niggling to the important. Some of these tips are unique to Buxton, but others are also applicable to other fringes. Since catch-all advice is probably more useful, I’ll start with that. Continue reading

What’s worth watching: autumn/winter 2013

So, folks, it’s that time of year to feel gloomy. Partly because of the colder days or longer nights, but more so because The X Factor has started. On the theatre scene, the Fringes are finished, and it won’t be long until Pantomime season begins, then it’s nothing but Cannon and Ball for a month and a half. So it’s best to make the most of theatre before then, and here are my recommendations based on previous work.

And my first pick for this season is John Godber’s September in the Rain, directed by Godber himself. This is on tour and it will be calling at Darlington Civic Theatre on, quite fittingly, the last week in September, on the 24th-28th September. I don’t always recommend Godber plays. Great though the classics are, such as Bouncers and Teechers, one thing you notice about Godber after you see a few plays is that the same themes keep coming up again and again – teaching, modern class divides, petty greed, and an awful lot of couples based on his parents. This one, I suspect, is going to heavily re-use the final theme.

But, strangely enough, I’ve got a soft spot for this theme. There’s plenty of plays where a couple is in a doomed marriage and the bubble finally bursts, and some of those plays are excellent. But then you have plays like Happy Jack, which I saw last year, where not that much happens. That was about a couple who marry young and stay together their whole lives, with the occasional minor squabble being worked out and life goes on. September in the Rain looks like it’s a similar story: a another couple who go on holiday to Blackpool every year over four decades – and why not? In the scramble for storylines about failing marriages, something the happy ones get forgotten about. Also, this is a 1982 play, and in my experience the old ones that keep getting revived tend to be the good ones. (Note: I don’t actually know this play, and I don’t want to spoil it by reading the plot beforehand. If I’ve got this wrong and it turns out I’m sending you to a play about four decades of wife-beating, I apologise in advance.) Continue reading

The last place you’d expect a theatre

Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers is a decent play but nothing out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary is where Esk Valley Theatre perform it.

Barney sitting with Bobbi, as the penny drops that she's insane

Amateur dramatics faces an uphill battle against being dismissed as amatuerish – sometimes this impression isn’t fair, sometimes it is. But nothing has a worse reputation than the dreaded village hall play. The wonderful Social Stereotypes portrays the typical group as Chalfont St Oswald, where Pamela writes the play, directs the play, writes the songs, and casts herself into all the most glamorous parts even though she’s far too old for fishnet tights. The equally wonderful Hot Fuzz has an equally unflattering portrayal of a village hall production of Romeo and Juliet. Whether this reputation is warranted is open to debate, but I can see one big problem: if your intended audience is the rest of the village and everyone in the village knows someone in the production, there’s not much motivation to try to be any good.

But not every village hall wants to settle for “Didn’t they all try hard?” this cannot be truer than in Glaisdale, home of Esk Valley Theatre. This runs one month every year in August, and it’s converted into a makeshift theatre with temporary seats and lighting. Nothing out of the ordinary here; plenty of venues are temporary theatres that have other functions the rest of the year, such as most of the spaces at the very famous arts festival that runs during the same month. But here’s the unusual bit: in spite of the Glaisdale barely scraping a population over 1,000, it has a fully professional cast, and audiences come from all over the North York Moors. It’s endorsed by Alan Ayckbourn and Pip Leckenby, who designs most of the sets for him, is usually the set designer for their plays.

Continue reading