What’s worth watching: Brighton Fringe 2014

So, as promised, here is my usual list of plays I’m recommending for the Brighton Fringe. This time, I’m listing specific plays I think are worth seeing – if you want a general guide to how to make the most of your Fringe (particularly if you’re an Edinburgh veteran who’s not used to the differences in Brighton), you might also want to read How to make the most of the Brighton Fringe.

A quick recap: unlike the big productions, I don’t go through every single in the fringe brochure and draw up a shortlist based on rigorous criteria. Instead, this is list of plays where I happen to have seen the company, writer or performer in action before and I can recommend what they do on the strength of their previous work. This is a slightly shorter list than last year, when there were three excellent productions I’d previously seen at Edinburgh or Buxton coming to Brighton. But remember: there will be some excellent pays in the line-up that I’ve never heard of before. And some good ones. And some mediocre ones. And some shit ones.

Scene from Killing RogerSo, starting off, one play I can confidently put in the “excellent” list is Sparkle and Dark’s Killing Roger. This play is being touted by some as one of the highest recommended plays of the Fringe, if not the highest, and frankly, this recognition is long overdue. Regulars to this blog will know I’ve been following Sparkle and Dark through a number of previews and reviews, and if I had my way we’d have been doing the fanfares ever since 2010 with their outstanding The Clock Master.

For those who don’t know, Sparkle and Dark is a group who make heavy use of puppetry, music and choreography in their performances. They originally aimed themselves at family audiences, but their themes have got darker and darker, with their last production, The Girl With No Heart, being a fable uncomfortably close to nuclear war, and their latest play covers the equally uncomfortable subject of assisted suicide. Killing Roger‘s success isn’t so much down to one smash hit topping everything they’ve done so far – the last two plays were very different and it’s really down to personal preference – but rather all their hard work and achievements over the last five years finally getting the recognition it deserved. This is showing on the 17th-18th May at 5.30 at The Warren, and on the 19th, it starts with a talk at 5.30 with the play starting at 7.00 p.m.

Turning my attention to a less prominent piece that I have good expectations for: Duwayne by Gail Luow. Gail Luow came to my attention two years ago with her outstanding Blonde Poison, a solo performance as holocaust-collaborating Jew Stella Goldschlag. This time, it’s the story of Duwayne Brooks, who – as it now appears – was on the receiving end in a very bad way at the height of the Stephen Lawrence cover-up. This is on at 8.00 p.m. on the 26th-28th May at The Old Market.

Now, turning my attention to the regulars, no Brighton Fringe would be complete without Bite-Size and their ten-minute plays. Last year was, in my opinion, their best line-up ever, so the only downside is that it’s going to be a hell of a job to top it off next year. One bit of bad news: unless you’re staying for longer than a week, you won’t be able to see the full line-up. They’ve got two line-ups of five-minute plays, and two performances each Sunday at 11.00 a.m. and 12.30 p.m., but it’s menu 1 twice on the 4th and 18th, and menu 2 twice on the 11th and 25th. That’s a bummer, because I would otherwise have highly recommended seeing both. Ah well, you’ll just have to make sure you see one and enjoy it while you have the chance. You can see this at Latest Music Bar.

Richard Stamp says:

“Good to find another Wired Theatre fan. Wish they’d be more disciplined, but always so unexpected.”

And finally, another regular: Wired Theatre with All Found and Up for Action. Wired Theatre are a devised theatre company who take a lot of gambles, and the gambles don’t always work out, but they are one of my favourite Brighton regulars because: 1) they are one of the best groups for site-specific performances, and 2) they are almost entirely a company of older actors, who defy the stereotype that the Fringe is a students’ and drama graduates’ game. I can’t tell you much about this play because Wired are always highly cryptic with their play descriptions, but I can tell you that, in common with many plays premièring 100 years after 1914, the First World War features in it. Two things you can be certain of, however, is that you’ll need to concentrate (so try not to have a monster hangover whilst watching this), and it will be refreshingly different from everything else you see. It’s showing on various dates between the 3rd and 31st May, at 3.00, 5.00 or 7.00 p.m., at  Saint Barnabas’ Vicarage.

And finally finally, for anyone who likes a bit of cabaret, I must mention one front runner of my annual “What the fuck?” award (in a good way). Boogaloo Stu is back with Crimplene Millionaire, on the 1st May at 8.00 p.m. and the 2nd-3rd May at 10.15 p.m., although you’ll have to check the details yourself as I’m still traumatised after last time. It’s definitely a great night out, although I think you might be able to achieve the same effect by eating six cheese butties before going to bed.

So that’s your shortlist. I will be at the Fringe from 15th to the 18th, so apologies to anyone not around at this time that I won’t be able to review. But hopefully I will be able to stumble across something new to recommend. Watch this space.

UPDATE 13/05/2014: Here’s a late addition from Brighton Festival for a change: Northern Stage’s Catch 22. I saw this in Newcastle and it is, believe it or not, a farce and a thriller at the same time, and it works. Full review coming soon, but if you want to see it at Brighton, it’s on between the 13th and 17th.

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