What’s worth watching: Brighton Fringe 2015

And the wait is finally over. If you’ve been twiddling your thumbs since the end of August, stop twiddling. Brighton Fringe is about to begin. I will of course be coming to Brighton myself, and I will be posting reviews of anything I find that’s good, but by the time I write my review, it will have probably have finished. So, as usual, my list of pre-fringe recommendations based on previous performances. This year, I am taking a leaf out of Fringeguru’s book and dividing my recommended plays into “safe choices” and “bold choices”. Safe choices are plays where – provided the description of the play appeals to you – I am confident you’ll either like it or love it. Bold choices are plays where I’m less sure how they’ll turn out, and it might not work out,l but you might also be one of the first to see the next great thing from Brighton.

Yet again, usual caveats: this is not a comprehensive guide of what to see. I only know about a fraction of the stuff on offer in Brighton. There will be plenty of excellent plays that I’ve never heard of next month. If you want a list recommendations that tries to cover the entire fringe, those are on their way from sites such as Fringeguru (see also here) and FringeReview. Where possible, I will highlight here where my recommendations are also recommended elsewhere. If I’ve missed a recommendation from another (reputable) review site, let me know and I’ll add this. Continue reading

How to make the most of the Brighton Fringe (fringe newbie edition)

Brighton Fringe mural

Eek. Less than two weeks to go before fringe season begins. Better get a move on. I’ve got a list of Brighton recommendations that will be coming up shortly, but first of all, here’s my annual guide for how to make the most of it. In the last two years, I’ve written this guide for people who are used to the Edinburgh Fringe who might need to know how Brighton differs. This time, however, I don’t see any need to further update it, so this time I’m going to do a list of tips for people who’ve never done any kind of fringe before. This is not a list of things I recommend seeing – that will come in the next few days – instead it’s a list of general tips for how to get the best out of your fringe visit.

So, without further ado, here we go.

Why Brighton Fringe?

The Brighton Fringe is the world’s third biggest open arts festival, after Edinburgh and Adelaide. The important bit is the word “open”. There are no vetting processes to decide who can and can’t take part – anyone who wants to do Brighton Fringe can do so, provided someone covers your expenses. Like many fringes, Brighton Fringe runs concurrently to the vetted Brighton Festival, but the two festivals get on with each other rather well and co-operate (unlike the Edinburgh International Festival who have never forgiven the Edinburgh Fringe for upstaging them). It’s a much smaller festival than Edinburgh (in Edinburgh you can’t miss the fact a fringe is on, in Brighton you probably will miss it if you don’t know it’s there), but there’s still plenty to keep you busy. Continue reading

Day of the Flymo: a good play for Wet House fans

Day of the Flymo publicity image

Despite a few niggles over the episodic format, Day of the Flymo is a thoughtful play that won’t disappoint fans of Wet House.

Paddy Campbell’s had a whirlwind 18 months at Live. His début, Wet House was so much of a smash hit it won the Journal’s award for Best Play and got a revival at Live the following year. So now he’s following it up with a second play, Day of the Flymo, again at Live Theatre. What could possibly go wrong? … Actually, quite a lot. When your first play is that much of a runaway success, people’s expectations go into overdrive. And there’s no guarantee that the next play will live up to the blockbuster you’ve just done. Has anyone heard of The Sparrow? Thought not. That was a flop of Alan Ayckbourn’s that immediately followed Relatively Speaking.

Well, if Paddy was worried this might happen, he needn’t have done. It’s another decent, thoughtful play, and anyone who liked Wet House won’t be disappointed with this. It’s fair to say that Campbell played it safe this time and stuck to his strength, which is writing about what he knows, but its a strength that serves well. Last time it was based on his work in a hostel for alcoholics. This time, it’s based on his experiences of social care. But there is one big difference between in two plays. In Wet House, a bad situation was made worse by a sadistic carer who brutalised the residents, manipulated the other staff, and bullied everyone. In Day of the Flymo, social worker Ben (Akemnji Ndifornyen) is competent, capable, good-natured, and works with equally dedicated people – and yet, even with the best will in the world, things go wrong very easily.

The story centres on Liam (Kalem Patterson), a 13-year-old with, it appears, the difficult combination of Asperger’s and ADHD. He’s a tearaway who got himself thrown out of school, and was probably mentally damaged by his violent father. A strong theme of the play the effect Liam has on his family. Mother Karen (Jill Dellow), having taken the worst of her husband’s violent behaviour, never fully recovered and doesn’t know how to handle her son. Which mean it falls to Liam’s half-sister Becca (Tezney Mulroy) to look after the whole family in the middle of her GCSEs. Desperate for respect, Liam makes friends where he can: first with mischievous old ladies who get him to mow the lawn (amongst other tasks); then Clara (Sophie Pitches), who bunks off her posh school and his family issues of her own; and then, most alarmingly, a gang up to no good who can set him up for anything. Continue reading

What I’ve learned from three years of theatre blogging

Bloody hell. Three years since I did my very first blog post. Back then, I started it off on a whim, got a trickle of pageviews, and that was about it. Now I get a lot more visitors, I am known to other reviewers, some of my reviews do the rounds, I can get press tickets to reviews and – for some reason – an old review I wrote of Absurd Person Singular seem to have become a port of call for gazillions of GCSE English students as a set text. Over time, the scope of this blog has also changed. Originally, it was only going to be reviews, but over time this is expanded to include recommendations, tips (for both punters and performers) and comment articles, all of which have ranged from next to no attention to raising a lot of eyebrows.

Anyway, to mark three years, I’ve update my About Me section with two new pages: What Chrisontheatre is, and What Chrisontheatre is not. They’re quite detailed, but it covers a lot of things I learnt about theatre blogging, and what expectations there are (and which expectations I will and won’t live up to.) But to cover the important points there, plus a few other observations I’ve made since I began:

1: Don’t expect to get it right the first time

You might think that if all you’re doing is writing reviews, you can’t go wrong, can you? After all, an opinion is an opinion? How can you get opinions wrong? However, reality isn’t so simple. You’ve got to be readable to a wider audience, not just yourself. You’ve got to keep their attention. You need to be disciplined enough to avoid waffling over minor points. You need to learn to be concise. These are things should expect to learn as you go along. When I read some of my early reviews today, I wince when I see how much waffling and digression there is. But that’s okay, because that hopefully means I’ve learned and improved. You should expect the same experience.

2: Building a blog audience takes a long time

I’ll be upfront. For the first year or so, my pageviews were so embarrassingly low I wondered why I was bothering. Unless you are lucky enough to already have a big following of social media, you can expect the same start. (Some blogging sites will appear to show a lot of hits from a word go, but the bad news is they are almost certainly not people reading your posts. Most “hits” are automated downloads from bots for search engines. Sorry.) There are ways that you can get more attention and build up a following, but there’s really just two things you need. Time. And patience. And you need a lot of both. So if you’re not prepared for the long haul, you might want to question whether it’s worth starting in the first place. But the good news is that my pageviews now are least five times as much as they were in my first year. Speaking of pageviews … Continue reading