Richmond’s Georgian Theatre safe?

Picture of Georgian Theatre
Small bit a good news from Yorkshire. You might remember two years ago I reported the troubling news The Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond was in trouble. They weren’t exactly saying the theatre was under imminent threat from closure, but they hinted this might have to be the outcome if not enough backers came forwards. It’s not clear how likely this possibility actually was, but with nearby Darlington Arts Centre having already gone down the pan, it was certainly enough to get people worried.

Well, it looks like help is on its way. The news broke yesterday that the Georgian Theatre has scooped a £286k lottery grant to expand its exhibition and educational facilities. This is on top of  £231k bequest made two years ago. Now, before you get too excited, this doesn’t necessarily mean the Georgian Theatre is off the hook just yet. This grant doesn’t actually cover running the theatre itself. Saltburn Theatre is currently having a similar struggle – they received a £50k lottery grant for sound, lighting and new seats, but they couldn’t use it to pay of the debts incurred in an attempt to convert an old school into an arts space. But with the historic character of the theatre being its key feature, surely this is going to make the cash flow a lot easier. Continue reading

The Frights: the debut Alphabetti needed

Promtional image: remains of a bed in a ruined roomWith so much resting a good inaugural performance at Alphabetti theatre, the stakes could not be higher for The Frights. And does the job, with a play that’s intelligent, complex and – dare I say it? – thought-provoking.

With a successful crowdfunder and launch out of the way for Alphabetti Theatre, attention now turns to their first in-house production at their new theatre, The Frights. It’s directed by Ali Pritchard, who somehow managed to find the time to do this on top of actually building the venue, although it looks like he had a lot of help from the very much hands-on writer Louise Taylor. It’s not quite Alphabetti’s début – they did an Edinburgh Fringe show as Teeth in Eggcups and they’ve done a few in-house plays at their old home of the Dog and Parrot – but it was still the début that mattered. Because no matter how well you open a venue, no matter how nice the quirks such as the chairs being on sale from a local furniture store, people are going to want something to show for it. Fail to impress with the first play, and the future after first season would look shaky.

So, it must have been quite a fraught business for Alphabetti, and quite a fraught business for me too. After all of the energy I spent supporting the setup of this venue, it would have put me in a very awkward position had the first show failed to impress. But I needn’t have worried. It’s a good inaugural play, and bodes well if this is how they mean to go on. Continue reading

An open challenge for Live Theatre

Live Theatre's undercroft

COMMENT: Alphabetti Theatre is a big step in the right direction for Newcastle. Here’s a suggestion for how Live Theatre could do the same.

Tomorrow is the grand opening of Alphabetti Spaghetti’s New Theatre in Newcastle. I’ve been promoting this during their crowdfunding phase, because I think it’s a welcome development in Newcastle. Anyone who have been to the festival fringes at Edinburgh or elsewhere will know how good a play can be from a small group in a small theatre space with next to no budget – and yet, in spite of Newcastle having a lot of groups on this scale, there’s never really been anywhere notable to perform it. Alphabetti’s predecessor theatre, an upstairs room at the Dog and Parrot, was a start, but this has so much more scope.

So, what’s not to like? Nothing really – except that this responsibility shouldn’t be falling to one small group of actors. There are already plenty of performance spaces in Newcastle’s existing theatres that could just as easily do what Alphabetti theatre’s doing. And even with Alphabetti’s new theatre up and running, why stop at one fringe space? Why not more? After all, festival fringes work so well by having different venues and different shows competing with each other, and may the best performers win. But most similar-sized performance spaces stand idle much of the time. This is common practice throughout theatres not just in Newcastle, but across the country. As such, it’s unfair to single out one theatre too much. But with Live Theatre seeing itself as the leading source of new writing in the north east, if anyone has a responsibility to support fringe groups more, Live Theatre does. Continue reading

Teechers and Donna Disco

(Prologue: Chris Neville-Smith sits as his computer, thinking that he really can’t be arsed to write two articles about two plays he’s already seen. “What I really need” he thinks, “is a contrived theme to connect the two together.” Suddenly, he realises they’re both set in schools. Problem solved.)

Who would be a secondary school teacher? Here you are, trying to help teenagers learn the stuff they ought to know unless they want to spend the next forty years in the beef caracass factory, and what do they do? Have a riot. And who would be a secondary school pupil? It’s like Lord of the Flies, but with thick oversized schoolboys in charge. The only consolation is that it gives teachers and pupils alike the chance to write plays about what schools are like.

So two plays that are doing to rounds now are Teechers and Donna Disco. Both plays are smash hits, and having seen them before I can vouch they are smash hits for a reason. I also had high expectations for the companies producing them. And so, in perhaps the least surprising turn of events in the history of the blog, both productions were exactly as good as I was expecting. I won’t give a detailed appraisal of the plays as they’re already getting praise from pretty every Tom, Dick and Harry, but I’ll give a quick run-down. Continue reading