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.
(See also: How to make the most of the Brighton Fringe and How to make the most of the Brighton Fringe (fringe newbie edition) for some general advice of how the this fringe works.)
First of all …
Before moving on to the recommendations, one piece of news, and one piece of shock news.
One gradual change that fringe veterans have noticed in the last few years is the rise of The Warren, which is – if you like – Brighton’s “super-venue”. It used to be just “Upstairs at the Three and Ten”, then it expanded to another building with rabbit-themed foyer and a big stage, and then that grew to three spaces, and between them they accounted for a large part of the Brighton programme. This year, however, The Warren has moved from an obscurely-sited building to a new pop-up site at St. Peter’s Church. The Warren might not be any larger, but its location has now changes from something that’s hard to find to something that you can’t possibly miss. (And, coincidentally, Upstairs at the Three and Ten has also moved following a change of ownership at that pub.) So this is turn raises the prominence of the fringe as a whole. But could we see a situation in the future where The Warren dominates Brighton in the same way Underground Venues dominates the Buxton Fringe? As always, we’ll see.
However, the real shock news from the programme isn’t what’s there but rather what isn’t there. No Bite-Size. This hugely popular Brighton-based group have been performing sets of ten-minutes plays to great acclaim, so surely it’s no-brainer to take part in the fringe each year? Evidently not. No sign of them in the Edinburgh programme either (although there’s still time to register, and they’re definitely shows on in London). I know that artistic director Nick Brice had expressed doubts about both festivals before, but I don’t think anyone ever thought he might actually not take part. I have several theories why he might have chosen to give this year a miss, but they’re all speculation and mostly contradictory. If I find out the reason, I’ll let you know.
But it’s no use recommending something that’s not coming. What is coming to Brighton that I can recommend for you?
So, this time round, is a surprise turn of events, neither of my two top theatre recommendations are in the theatre section of the programme. One is in comedy and one is in literature.
So the recommendation from the comedy section will be no surprise to blog regulars. It was my best solo performance of 2014, I’ve been championing it ever since I was it at last year’s Buxton Fringe, and it’s Ms Samantha Mann: Stories About Love, Death, and a Rabbit. I cannot recommend this show highly enough. If you’re after a bit of light-hearted fun where a man dresses up as a middle-aged spinster doing incompetent poetry, you won’t be disappointed, but this show is so much more as a theatre piece.
No, the real strength of this performance is not the bad poetry, but what Samantha Mann (aka Charles Adrian) waffles in between the poems – a sad story slowly pieces together of a woman who has been lonely her whole life, with the only her friend seemingly a brother she refers to. But really, take it from me, you absolutely have to see this if you haven’t already (or even if you have). You can read my previous praise in these two fringe roundups. Catch this on the 15th-17th at the Marlborough Theatre.
And now the one from the spoken word section. I must say, I am surprised this has been put down in literature, because this belongs just as much in the theatre section as any other solo piece. Other than that, I have nothing to fault about this play. The Silence of Snow is the story of Patrick Hamilton. Many people know his famous plays Gaslight and Rope – fewer people know the story of the man, his alcoholism, and his self destructive traits that eventually killed him.
This play was one of two that writer/director Mark Farrelly took the Edinburgh Fringe last year (review here), the other one being about Quentin Crisp. But this was the far better play of the two, and yet for some reason this only got a fraction of the attention and lived in the shadow of the other one. I really hope this play gets the break it deserves this time, because it’s a very interesting play covering a lot of Hamilton’s work and the stories behind, which still a profound portrayal of the man himself. This is on the 21st-24th and 28th-31st May at the new Rialoto Theatre, who are very lucky to have this for their inaugural season.
Finally, my only safe choice in the actual theatre section is, oddly enough a play I haven’t seen before: Miss Deitrich Regrets. But whilst I know little about this play, I know a bit about writer Gail Louw, and my recommendation is based on her excellent Blonde Poison from 2012, where she did a solo performance as Stella Goldschlag, a German Jew who notorously betrayed hundreds of fellow Jews to the Nazis. She also took a play about Duwane Brooks last year which I didn’t see, but I heard a lot of good things about it.
I’ve put this straight to safe choice specifically on the strength of Blonde Poison. Normally I’m cautious to recommend a play I haven’t seen solely on the strength of the writer’s reputation, because even the best writers can have disappointing follow-ups, but this time, my firm call, I’m sure this can’t go wrong. She does the small cast historical biopic so well, I’m confident she’ll do justice to the life of the troubled German singer whose home country went to the Nazis whilst she toured America. This shows at The Old Market on the 25th-26th May at 8.00 p.m. Which means I’ll miss it by one day. Bugger.
Just one bold choice from the theatre section this year. It’s long-standing Brighton regulars Wired Theatre with Come Unto These Yellow Sands, Wired was one of my chance discoveries back in 2010, and they’re notable for two reasons in particular. Firstly, they are a company of mostly older actors in a fringe which is often seen as a young actors’ game. Secondly, they are masters of site-specific devised theatre, and you can never tell where you’ll be this year or what you’ll be in for.
This year, it’s some women who met at Greenham common who are reunited after the death of one of their number. Beyond that, there’s little I can tell you about this, because Wired are always extremely cryptic about what their plays are really about. They always take risks in their productions – and sometimes, their gambles don’t work out. Also, be advised that they never make their plays simple and you will need to concentrate. But Wired is always worth working into your schedule, because you know what to expect with them. They are on various dates throughout the fringe at 1 Shakespeare Street, Hove. And if you’re wondering: yes, that is somebody’s house.
From the comedy:
Although this is a theatre blog, I do end up seeing a bit of comedy here and there. I’m not including this in my safe and bold choice because I don’t really see enough comedy to make a fair judgement, but here nonetheless are a few things I’ve seen before that I enjoyed.
Also recommended by:
Fringe Review – #2 sketch comedy
So, first of all, Beasts. I’m recommending this after seeing last year’s show, Beasts: Solo, which isn’t actually a solo show, but the three men of the comedy group all trying to squeeze their new solo shows into one performance. One of them wants to play Nelson Mandela in a biopic (so what if he’s not black? – that’s exactly the discrimination Mandela fought against), one of them wants to be a magician (magician, NOT paedophile, magician, NOT paedophile), and one of them wants to be a burlesque dancer. But they all put it together into one show which is about as traumatising as it sounds. Okay, when I say this is “recommended”, I’m sure this is also very funny, but watch this at your own risk. 22nd-23rd May at the (new) Warren, if you dare.
If you need less trauma and more spreadsheets, however, you can catch Festival of the Spoken Nerd at Brighton. When I first saw this back in 2013, I was convinced geekdom would be a passing fad and next months it would be back to “Those trainers are GAY! I’m doing to DO YOU.” But here we are in 2015 and apparently geek is still cool. Seriously, this is a show all about science, and it’s fun whether you’ve got a triple-PhD in Bambergasgoinology or you just like to watch The Big Bang Theory. All the science in the show is real science, explained in a way that anyone can understand, but there’s bonus in-jokes for you sciencey types. They’re only doing one show, which they’re sharing with fellow nerd Go 8-bit (but it’s 2h30m, so you should get an hour of each), on the 31st May at 6 in The Old Market. If you can’t make it there, don’t worry, there’s a tour and an Edinburgh Fringe run coming up very soon.
There’s also fringe favourites Morgan and West on offer, as these two seem to come to Brighton Buxton and Edinburgh every year now. In case you haven’t heard of them yet, they’re a pair of magicians with a Victorian time-travelling theme thrown in. They tend to do their plays in a theatrical format, and sometimes this involves going on grand adventures, but I can vouch their magic tricks are genuine one and not just people planted in the audience. This time their show is “Utterly spiffing spectacular” and bills as for kids and childish grown-ups. Their regular shows are pretty family friendly anyway, so I can put this as a safe bet whether or not you’ve got kids with you. And you can catch this on the 3rd-4th May at 11.30 at Otherplace in the Basement.
And finally, no fringe would be complete without Boogaloo Stu: Crimplene Millionaire, which is clearly one of these shows aiming to scoop the coveted “What the fuck?” award of the fringe. There’s quite a lot of shows throughout the fringes whose sole aim is to be more bizarre than anything else on the fringe, but, take it from me, no-one comes close to Boogaloo Stu. I saw him back in 2012 when the audience were invited to put together a no. 1 single in an hour – at least I think I went to that, but maybe I’d eaten too many cheese butties before bedtime and it was all a weird dream. Anyway, Crimplene Millionaire, I’m told, is a random game show, and apparently it’s just a bizzare as what I saw.
You might also like …
I’m adding one other thing into my list. I saw this in Edinburgh and I had a few reservations, but I’m listing it anyway so you can decide for yourself. (And I nominated it for Bold Choice on FringeGuru.) My Name is Saiorse is a solo play from writer/performer Eve O’Connor set in 1980s Ireland, at the time when it was considered a good idea to keep teenagers in the dark about sex education and all that filth. Inevitably, Saiorse instead hears about the birds and bess from her more outgoing but irresponsible friend Siobahn, with heartbreaking consequences for Saiorse.
It’s a good story, but I wasn’t totally convinced this works best as a play, because it’s a wordy one with not much opportunity for naturalistic movement. It’s probably better to look on this as a spoken word piece. But if you like your spoken word, it’s an interesting story, an interesting depiction of the Ireland of the time, and it should make you think. This is part of Sunday Child’s Theatre’s tour, calling at Brighton on a Saturday, sadly not quite living up to its name. 2nd May, 1.30 p.m. Otherplace in the basement.
But what will be joining these plays in my roundup? The best thing about a fringe is seeing a good play from people I’ve never heard of. Who will that be. I will be coming to Brighton on the 21st-24th of May. If you are performing over these dates, good luck – I hope I can add you to this list.
Footnote: Observant fringe types may have noticed that this year, four of the play listed above have appeared as bold choice or sure choices in FringeGuru. I sent my list of picks to Richard Stamp earlier this month, and four of them were added to this list, with descriptions added by me. Another four were picked by Fringeguru staff anyway and recommendations were written by them. That’s all quite boring and technical, so don’t worry if you didn’t follow that. All you need to know is the fact that four of these are my “picks” in Fringeguru should not be interpreted as a preference over the other six plays in this article.