Liz Lochhead, hang your head in shame

Scene from The City

COMMENT: High-profile artists are entitled to their opinions. To use their power and influence to politically censor small productions in an open arts festival is nothing short of disgraceful.

Tomorrow is the official start of the Edinburgh Fringe. Normally, I would make myself busy with recommendations of what plays to see. There would be the usual debates about whether the fringe is too expensive, too dominated by big name comedians, or too dominated by the super-venues. But this year, all of this has been eclipsed with one of the most disgraceful acts to ever occur at the Edinburgh Fringe: political censorship is back.

Early this year, I wrote about an attempt at censorship of a webcomic called Jesus and Mo, and a particularly nasty campaign against some individuals who said they didn’t find it offensive. That campaign thankfully failed, but at the time I asked how long it would be before we have another Behtzi? The answer, it turns out, is six months. Only this time the target for a hate mob, Incubator Theatre’s show The City, isn’t in the least bit offensive – their act is parody film noir with hip hop.

No, their only crime is that they are partly funded by an arts council, just like, um, thousands of other theatre companies who need to make ends meet. The difference that that they are Israelis, and therefore have to get their funding from Israel’s the ministry of culture, and this tenuous link to the war in Gaza is enough to call for a boycott. Except a boycott isn’t enough. People choose to see or not see shows for all sorts of reasons, and that’s fine at a fringe, but the people against this show want to deprive everyone else of this choice. So they held a big demonstration against Underbelly’s launch event, with disruption to public order, and Underbelly capitulated and pulled the show. For the first time in years, a group has been censored for political reasons.

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Roundup: Buxton Fringe 2014

Buxton Fringe logoOkay, I think I am sufficiently recovered from Buxton to embark on the roundup of this year’s plays. As always, my roundup is always limited to plays I was able to see, and once again, with me taking part myself, I other plays I saw were restricted to whatever I was able to view in the limited time slots available. In particular, apologies to Butterfly – I would liked to have seen Dracula’s Women, but I couldn’t squeeze in everything on my must-see list and this lost out.

Well, after last year’s viewing which left me struggling for a pick of the fringe, the good news is that this year has made up for it. The bad news is that the overall standard has been so good, I’m going to have to get choosy. So, here we go.

Pick of the Fringe

I’ll start with the early suprise recommendation. From the comedy section: Ms Samantha Mann: Stories of Love, Death, and a Rabbit. Yes, that’s right, this theatre blog is putting a comedy in its picks – because this is so much more than a comedy. On the surface, this appear to be a frivolous character comedy. Charles Adrian plays Samantha Mann, a middle-ages spinster doing a woefully inept poetry performance. Except she doesn’t actually get round to much poetry – she spends so much time nervously waffling about herself, half the hour’s gone before she gets round to any poetry. Continue reading

How to make the most of the Edinburgh Fringe

Edinburgh Comedy Fesitval logo crossed out
Here’s the big change in 2014

Hmm. My guide to making the most of the Buxton Fringe has got lots of attention this year round, but the Brighton Fringe guide not so much. Last time round, it was Brighton that got the flood of pageviews and Buxton that got only a trickle. Well, anyhow, let’s finish this off with the updated guide for Edinburgh, seeing as that’s only two week away now. Remember, these guides are about how the fringe works as a whole, and it doesn’t have any recommendations of individual shows. That will come later (once I’ve had a chance to check all the entries in the programme – oh boy, that’ll be fun). Apologies to any performers from Buxton waiting for my roundup – my brain is still fried and it will take a few days to get it back into sufficient working order to write that. But I can just about manage to update an old article now. Continue reading

Roundup: Buxton Fringe 2014 (coming soon)

Don’t get too excited. I’m not going to be doing a day-by-day update like I did for Brighton – it’s too complicated to do this in such a small festival when I’m a participant myself.

However, I’m posting early to recommend Samantha Mann: Stories of Love, Death and a Rabbit, which I’ve already decided to put in my Pick of the Fringe. And for any of you who’ve been following my blog closely, you will note this is the first time I had put a fringe show down as comedy in my pick of the fringe, because this is actually one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in spite of its category. Even though the middle-aged comedy spinster is played by a young man, it is one a of most impressive pieces of acting I’ve seen, and it’s far more than a stand-up show. I will explain why soon, but in the meantime, you’ve got one show left, at 10.00 today (Tuesday 15th July).

What’s worth watching: Buxton Fringe 2014

Eeek, the Buxton Fringe launch party has started and I still haven’t done my recommendations. I do have partial excuse for why I’ve been so busy, but I’d better get a move on. My list of surefire recommendations is a short one this year, because, unlike last year, I can see very few things by groups I recognise. But, as always, there will be some gems out there from people I’ve never heard of.

So my sole outright recommendation from the Theatre category this year is Butterfly Theatre with Dracula’s Women. Butterfly Theatre have been around for three years, and have previously done three Shakespeare plays that are highly fitting to a cavern setting. However, possibly for a change, and possibly because there’s only a finite number of plays of his that can be transplanted to caves, they’re now moving on to the equally fitting Bram Stoker. They’ve made themselves one of the headline acts of the Fringe – I’ve only seen one of them myself, but they certainly know what they’re doing, making good use of every nook and cranny, getting through at a cracking pace, and miraculously defying all of the things that Health and Safety says is going to happen if you perform in caves. If you like your Stoker and your site-specific pieces, you won’t be disappointed. It’s on between the 14th and 19th July and 5.30, 7 and 9.30 – this is the one play where I recommend booking in advance, because being a site-specific limited-capacity piece, the popular slots are liable to sell out. Continue reading

Lumiere to stay? (and other arts funding news)

Picture of Lumiere from 2011

If you’ve tried to speak to anyone working in a theatre in the last week and they bit your head off, it was probably nothing personal – it’s more likely they were stressing over the decision of the Arts Council’s 2015-2018 National Portfolio organisation. But it was announced this morning, so the time for nail-biting and head-biting is over. What does it mean for theatre round here?

On the whole, it’s quite good considering the cuts gong on across the board. Live Theatre, Northern Stage and the Stephen Joseph Theatre have all kept their funding. Small snag is there’s no increase to compensate for inflation, so it works out as a small real-terms cut, but that alone isn’t too difficult to absorb. They’re not entirely out of the woods yet, because it’s a different story with funding from Newcastle City Council and North Yorkshire County Council. But, on the whole, they can be relieved today.

Now, turning my attention to Durham, one alarming absence from the map is the Gala Theatre, which was a hub that funded Brass, The Streets, and – most importantly – Lumiere. Don’t panic. It hasn’t gone, they just forgot to put it on the map. If you looks at the spreadsheet instead, it’s still there (now renamed to Durham Arts Festivals Hub). What’s more, the grant is nearly double what is was in 2012-2015. So this looks like good news for anyone hoping Lumiere will return in 2015 – Durham County Council have been hinting for months that it depends on funding, and now they’ve got it.

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