Brighton Fringe 2014 – as it happened

This was my running coverage of the Brighton Fringe whilst I was down there. I have now summarised my reviews in the roundup of Brighton Fringe 2014. However, here is my archive of what I was thinking day by day.

Wednesday 14/05, 1 p.m.: Welcome to my live update page for the Brighton Fringe. My full review of the Brighton Fringe will be in a roundup, but between Thursday 15th and Sunday 19th, I’ll be posting here early reviews of anything that grabs my attention.

Until then, a reminder that you can see pre-fringe recommendations here. Bite-Size, Killing Roger and All Found and Up for Action are all on this week so it’s worth catching them if you’re around, as is Catch-22 if you wish to stray into Brighton Festival territory? But who will be joining them on my recommendations? Watch this space …

Wednesday 14/05 6.30 p.m.: But before I get to Brighton, I’m stopping off at sunny Bolton-by-the-seaa for Sunlight on the Moors by Kevan Ogden at Bolton Little Theatre. Kevan Ogden, you may recall, was the winner of the 2012 People’s Play. In my opinion, wasn’t treated treated terribly fairly since then (no issues with the People’s Theatre, it’s elsewhere), but that’s a story for another day.

I frequently work with Kevan, so under the rules of this blog it is not elegible for a review. What I can say impartially, however, it that’s this play has been uxpectedly popular and sold out before the start of the run, so it’s going to be coming back in August. Other members of the Little Theatre Guild might want to take this account before assuming no-one wants to see a play that hasn’t been published by Samuel French.

Thursday 15/05, 1:30 p.m: Nabbing the wi-fi and Victoria station Wetherspoons. Not long now.

But before then, do you remember my old article when I said I’d tot up common mistakes over the year? Well, I think now is a good time for an update. I have seen 17 eligible plays so far (i.e. 17 excluding plays that had involvement from either myself or friends), and I identified problems with four of them. That doesn’t always mean they were bad plays (indeed, I quite liked two of them), just that there was something I felt stood in the way of it being better. They are:

Characters doing implausible things: 2

Padding: 1

Trying to be clever: 1

Lack of cohesion in devised theatre: 1

Narrated story: 1

The last two are things that weren’t on my list of 10 common mistakes. Lack of cohesion is something I touched on in my list of devised theatre problems: a series of stories come together but don’t really add up to a whole play. The “narrated story” is a variant on the “essays instead of lines” problem in a solo performance: the speech is fine, but it consists of narrating a back-story as a blow-by-blow account rather than considering how the character might tell the story.

I’m not telling you which play was responsible for what (at least, not before you’ve bought me at least three pints), although some of these can be deduced from detective work. I’ll do my next update at the end of my Brighton visit – how many plays will be added to this list? Please don’t let it be many.

Thursday 15/05, 4:00 p.m.: And here I am, checked in, refreshed, and ready to go.

Here’s how this works: I am looking to compile a “pick of the fringe” list for my roundup at the end of my visit, and this article will list shows that are definitely going in. How choosy I get will depend on how good the standard is. This means that for some of the early shows, I may wait and see how good this year’s standard is rather than recommend it straight away – this is so that shows I see later have a fair chance against the earlier shows.

And a reminder of another rule: if you know I’ve seen your show and I have not given you a review or recommendation, you are welcome to ask why. It’s not necessarily because your show was bad – it may also be because the competition was tough, or it might have not sufficiently stood out from the crowd. I will keep private feedback constructive – you have put in a lot of work getting your show together, you are entitled to my time to hear what I think did and didn’t work.

Okay, here we go …

Friday 16/05, 11.00 a.m.: So, first day done, three plays seen. I have reservations about all three of them, but the first play I’m going to highlight is Waves from Alice Mary Cooper. (That’s Alice Mary Cooper, not this Alice Cooper – have we got this out the way?) The reason I’ve picked this one is that, out of the three, this one shows the most promise. You may remember that she appeared at Edinburgh two years ago with the highly bizarre When Alice (Cooper) met (Prince) Harry, where I finally realised my ambition to be in an Edinburgh Fringe show as “Confused member of audience”, so I was interest to see how she’s getting on.

This is a story of Elizabeth, a pioneer of the butterfly stoke. I do wish she’d made it clearer somehow what was fact and what was fiction, but it’s certainly true that it was the 1936 Olympics where the butterfly stroke first appeared. Alice Cooper certainly has a lot of ability and creativity as a solo performer, but I’m not sure the storytelling format allowed her to live up to her full potential. I think this would have been a stronger piece had told the story as Elizabeth rather than a third-person narrator. This, I think, would have given her much stronger opportunities to express the emotions Elizabeth had in her life, and let us get into the head of this modest character modestly narrating her achievements. But yes, keep an eye on what she comes up with next, because this looks promising.

Right, time for my ice cream on Brighton beach, a compulsory part of any Brighton Fringe visit.

Saturday 17/05: 11.00 a.m.: Two days down, six plays seen. My highlight from day two is The Girl and the Goat from SynaesTheatre. This is a play and not an illegal DVD, so don’t have nightmares. This story follow Faye, due to be married off to her indebted husband’s chief creditor, who wanders into the wood and falls of Pan, the not-entirely-benevolent god of the woods. This is performed as a physical theatre piece, choreographed very well, and the thing I really liked was that all the sound effects were created on stage with simple objects and a microphone. Someone enters the stream? You splash your hand in a bowl of water with a microphone above it, and I was impressed how well this worked.

This play is mostly done as physical theatre. This is usually a highly fitting format for mythological stories, but on this occasion I think it may have gone too far down this route. The play is meant to be a complex portrayal of a girl torn between a conservative family and a different fantasy world, but with dialogue pared down to a minimum I’m not sure it expressed this as well as it could have done. I think I’d have allowed more naturalistic dialogue though the play – there would have been plenty of opportunities for choreographed theatre on top of that. Still, this is a good start from a new physical theatre company, I’m interested to see where they go from here.

Sadly, the 16th was the last performance in Brighton. However, Waves is on today and tomorrow and is worth a visit if you haven’t seen it yet. However, a reminder that Killing Roger starts today, at 5.45 p.m. until Monday. All of these are at The Warren, which is having a pretty good run so far.

Saturday 17/05: 3.30 p.m.: No new update on waves, but a small update on my earlier choice with reservations, Waves. I coincidentally saw that with Richard Stamp, editor of FringeGuru. He disagrees with me, he’s given it five stars.

We had a pact not to discuss a play we’re both reviewing until we’ve reached our independent verdicts. I thought he wasn’t that enthusiastic, and when there was a delay in the review coming out, I thought it was because the review wasn’t a good one. I have been completely poker-faced.

Saturday 17/05: 7.00 p.m.: Just seen Killing Roger. Nothing to add from my previous Edinburgh Fringe review. There are some minor changes since Edinburgh, but everything that matters has, quite rightly, stayed the same. You have until Monday.

However, I have a new highlight in The People’s Champion, a one-man biopic of Hurricane Higgins. I see lots of solo performances at Fringes, of which a lot are biopics, so I get particularly choosy for this genre. If there’s one flaw I’d pick out with this play, it’s that this appears to rely too much on pre-existing knowledge of this snooker legend – not guaranteed if you’re under 40.

But the thing that absolutely needs a mention is the performance of Andy Currums. In this play, the defining feature of Hurricane Higgins is that he is far too arrogant for his own good. Like a lot of geniuses, his extraordinnary talent comes with a self-destructive trait that Currums portrays spot on. Even if you get lost every now and then wondering which period this is, it’s a solo performance worth seeing.

Sunday 18/05: 9.30 a.m.: So, two big fixtures on my final day. Firstly, Bite Size with the difficult challenge of beating last year’s line-up. Then later, Wired Theatre with All Found and Up for Action, which could be anything. Quite an interesting day in store.

As far as I can tell, there are still tickets for both performances (11.00 a.m. and 12.30 p.m.) of Bite Size, but they have previously sold out so good luck if you turn up at Latest Music Bar without a ticket. The 3.00 p.m. performance of Wired’s play is sold out but the 5.00 p.m. one isn’t. Oh, and it’s the far end of Hove this year, so you probably want to make sure you’ve got a ticket before you turn up on the door.

Sunday 18/05: 1.00 p.m.: Just seen Bite-Size, and I think my favourite has to be Candy Likes Your Status Update, or, as I prefer to call it, Thank Christ I’m Not On Facebook Any More. It looks like a piece of comedy-cum-social comment, but, as these people often do so well, it’s not quite the gag-a-minute piece it first seems.

How does the line-up compare with 2013? The jury’s out, and it may take the Edinburgh run before I give a verdict.

Sunday 18/05: 4.30 p.m.: Ooh, this is pretty good: Close to You from Tangled Theatre. This is a solo performance from Jennie Eggleton, playing a Jennifer who idolises Karen Carpenter, and like her idol, she is slowly starving herself to death. All the solo performances I’ve seen so far at Brighton have been impressive, and this is no exception.

Jennie Eggleton openly states that her play was inspired by Caroline Horton’s wonderful Mess. There are, admittedly, a lot of obvious derivations from Mess, but there is one theme in particular that is focused on here. One might think that the way Jennifer’s idol died would serve as a horrible warning to her. Alas, is is often the case, she instead treats this as something to aspire to, and there is a very uncomfortable parallel between Karen Carpenter dressing in more and more layers to disguise her condition, and Jennifer slowly does the same.

It include live piano music mostly from the Carpenters – very fitting, although I would have made more of this and interwoven more music in. Unluckily for this play, she got the dreaded 2 p.m. slots during a heatwave, so the audience wasn’t great, and that’s a pity because this play deserved a better audience. Sadly, that was the last Brighton performance, but it clearly went down well with those who saw it.

Monday 19/05: 9.00 a.m.: That’s it, time’s up, put your pens down. My fringe binge is concluded, and I have seen 13 plays. (I also saw one comedy which isn’t eligible for inclusion in pick of the fringe, but I can recommend Beasts: Solo if you’ve had at least three pints and you want to be traumatised for life in the final five minutes.)

My final highlight is indeed Wired’s All Found and Up For Action. This site-specific play is set in a home for women that houses a group of suffragettes. It’s a very interesting portrayal of the politics of the time, with the mood swinging between blowing up the West Pier and uniting to fight the Kaiser, where men are both the enemy and closest companions, and a maid who is supportive but doesn’t understand what this vote thingamyjig is anyway.

Sometimes, Wired strays into the territory of confusing for the sake of confusing, but this time they’ve kept it firmly under control. They maybe could have been a little clearer over what was a cutscene and what was an imagined flight of fancy (I’m assuming the lecherous man wasn’t really murdered in scene 3 seeing as he’s in the rest of the story). But on the whole, this format has Wired at their strongest.

Stay tuned for post-match analysis. Still to come is the final list for pick of the fringe and the update of common mistakes tally. The full roundup will come in the next few days, but please remember I had a job to go back to.

Monday 19/05: 1.00 p.m.: Also slightly alarmed today that I’m turning into a proper luvvie. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “[Insert name]! Darling! I haven’t seen you in months since [insert name of previous theatrical event].”

Monday 19/05: 9.00 p.m.: Whilst the judges deliberate on a final list for Pick of the Fringe, here’s an updated on the list of common fringe mistakes. There are five plays which added to this list, so the running total now stands at:

Implausible characters: 3

Trying to be clever: 3

Padding: 2

Lack of cohesion in devised theatre: 2

Opinion plays: 2

Unnatural speech: 2

Over-dependence on research: 1

Idealised characters: 1

There are some caveats I will need to explain here, but that will go in up update to my original article.

Tuesday 20/05: 4.30 p.m.: And here is the moment of truth. In my upcoming roundup, I will include the following plays:

Pick of the Fringe: Waves; The Girl and the Goat; Killing Roger; Bite-Size; Close to You; and All Found and Up for Action!

Honourable Mention: Betsy, Wisdom of the Brighton Whore; Dead in the Water; The People’s Champion

As you can see, Betsy and Dead in the Water are two plays I haven’t mentioned previously. I’ll give my thoughts about all these, and the others, in the roundup, which I hope to get done next weekend.

Tuesday 20/05: 10.00 p.m.: And that’s it, folks. The end of my Brighton Fringe updates. The next thing you’ll see will be the roundup, hopefully out this weekend, summarising everything said here, plus my thoughts on Betsy and Dead in the Water. Hope you enjoyed your stay in Brighton if you’ve already been, hope you will enjoy it if you’re yet to go. For those of you yet to go, Bite-Size and All Found and Up for Action! will continue to run during the Fringe, and don’t forget Duwayne starts on the 26th May – hope that’s a good one. Failing that, there’s plenty of other review sites for you.

Congratulations to those who made it to my pick. A reminder that if you know I’ve seen your play and you are not on the list, you are entitled to ask why. It takes a lot more work to produce a play than to review it, so that’s the least you deserve.

One fringe down, two to go.

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