Why I don’t believe Penguin’s side of the story

Righty-ho. This is something I’ve been working on and off for about two months, and I’ve kept having to defer this as more urgent news, reviews and previews took precedence. As you will see, it’s taken quite a bit of work going back finding primary sources, scrutinising them, and then writing about what I found. But here it is at last: a follow-up to “On the Ladybird vs Elia spat” that I wrote back in January, concerning the needless row between an independent author and Penguin Random House over a parody of the Ladybird books, and subsequent arguments over who stole whose idea. At the time, I tried to avoid coming off the fence too strongly, because I wanted to make to point that it’s good to build on each other’s ideas, and – oddly enough –  I tried to suggest it was time to put the dispute behind them. But here’s where it ends. This is where I take sides and lay into Penguin.

Teal Deer sign
Warning! Very long post ahead!

The reason I’m compelled to take sides is the attitude from a small but vocal number of people taking the line that Penguin is entirely blameless and it’s completely Miriam Elia’s fault. What’s more, the comments were a mixture of rude, aggressive, patronising, and – I suspect – attempts to intimidate people like me into deleting anything that might make Penguin look bad. So I had to go back and double-check the web pages where I got originally got my information from. And from there, I checked the primary sources cited. I thought I might come to some middle-of-the-road conclusion – perhaps Penguin merely mishandled things and allowed a misunderstanding to get out of hand, but I guessed wrongly. The evidence I’ve found overwhelmingly backs what Elia and others have been saying all along, and the claims made for Penguin stand up very poorly.

One important thing to say first is that this post does not cover every single point made in defence of Penguin – I could say more about this, but I want to concentrate on the big whoppers. Even so, this is going to be a long one, because sweeping statements are short and easy to make, and long and laborious to debunk. But read this you should, because this is quite possibly a large corporation abusing its position to try to silence artists they don’t like with legal threats they aren’t entitled to make. And that is something everyone in the arts world should worry about. Continue reading

5 tips for performing at a Fringe (which no-one ever follows)

The wait is nearly over, fringe season is nearly here, and if you are intending to take part, you are probably well underway getting your show ready. So this is the time of year when theatre bloggers like me give you some handy tips of what to do whether you want them or not.

But this time, I think I’m going to do something different. Plenty of people want to share with you their gems of wisdom that would make every show a success if only people listened to them. Instead, I’m going to give a series of uncontentious pieces of advice which I doubt anyone will dispute – except that I don’t expect anyone to actually do this. And if anyone claims they do any of these things, I refuse you believe you until I’ve strapped you to my high-voltage lie detector machine.

Remember folks, just because it’s sensible doesn’t mean you’ll do the sensible thing. Here are five sensible things I expect you to ignore.

1: Don’t obsess over your ticket sales

Screenshot of Performers' Area page of Underground Venues, showing Sales Reports section.
Damn you Underground Venues, this is all your fault

This is a recent phenomenon. In the old days, in order to find out how the ticket sales were doing, you had to turn up to the box office and ask. That safely limited you to two or three times a day, after which the box office staff would helpfully tell you to stop being this obsessive. Nowadays, however, many venues provide live online sales information to performers. And with the advent of smartphones, this now means you can check your ticket sales every five minutes if you want to. And yes, you want to check your ticket sales every five minutes, don’t you? Stop trying to deny it. Continue reading

Shafted: 2016 is the new 1985

John Godber’s latest play Shafted might not be his most distinctive play, but it’s another thoughtful play depicting an issue he cares about.

Godber and Thornton as Harry and Dot, complete with gnomeJohn Godber’s career has taken and interesting turn ever since he set up his own “John Godber Company”. After departing Hull Truck in a moderately acrimonious manner, he’s rebuilt bridges very quickly and happily tours there. He’s very supportive of amateur productions of his work when many other playwright are snotty about amateur efforts. But the most interesting development is the emergence of what some call a new “angry” Godber. I’m not sure I’d use the word “angry” myself – but his recent plays speak out on a lot of issues, and not whichever issues are the latest bandwagon, but whichever issues that are important to him. He particularly got my respect for Poles Apart where he challenges the disdainful attitude many supposedly left-wing artists have to the working class they’re supposed to champion.

But the Godber play that’s been getting the most attention is Shafted!, which, for a change, Godber wrote for himself and his wife to perform. It had a very successful run last year, and this year Godber and Thornton are on their lap of honour. This time, it’s about what happens to couple Harry and Dot after the defeat of the miners’ strike. But if you’re hoping it’s a platform for Godber to rant about Thatcher, this is not the play for you – although he’s broadly sympathietic to the mining communities such as the one he grew up in, he’s not interested in romanticising one side and vilifying the other. This follows what happens on a more human level. Continue reading

Live Lab Elevator and Gated Community

Fresh my my Vault Festival visit earlier this month, it’s back to Newcastle for some new work up north. Live Theatre have their biannual new writing festival, which this year is packaged up in their new Live Lab brand in a week-long event called Elevator. Meanwhile, just up the hill is Alphabetti Theatre who have been paying host to a touring company with a new play.

The first big disclaimer for all of these is that all of these plays are billed in development one way or another. I’m less likely to review plays in development than finished products, but all of these plays grabbed by interest anyway. Nevertheless, caution should be paid to this review or anyone else’s feedback. If you’re thinking of seeing this, anything I mention in these reviews may have changed by the time you see this – hopefully for the better, but possibly for the worse.

So, that caveat out of the way, let’s get going …

Red is the New Blue

The intelligent one being annoyed by some mindless comment. Probably.

This is a new play and not a spin-off of Orange is the New Black, so don’t get excited. Red is the New Blue is a product of Live Lab’s “associate artists” scheme. For its inaugural year, they picked three spoken word artists (Rowan McCabe, Matt Miller and Matilda Neill) who have collaborated on various projects. I don’t have a lot of interest in spoken word, but these three grabbed my attention in Live Lab’s Christmas Adventures with their tale of Father Christmas’s unseen story of his floundering marriage to Mrs. Christmas. Although there were a few giveaways that this was three people’s ideas bolted together (devised theatre should ideally look like it was a single idea all along), it was an encouraging sign of their imagination at work. (See last month’s Odds and Sods for news of  this year’s associate artists.) Continue reading

Odds and sods: February 2016

Well, I was thinking we wouldn’t need an odds and sods this month, as most of February things have been rather quiet. But it’s all got rather busy towards the end, so I’ve got quite a bit to write, after all. Here we go:

BBC Three goes online – and it’s not encouraging

New BBC Three logo
Oh dear

As we’ve been resigned to for months, BBC Three’s so-called “online move” took place this month. Last time I wrote about this, I was a bit more upbeat, because the plans implied that it would remain as a broadcast channel online – that, I believe, would have acted as a brake to stop the channel being eroded further. It also wouldn’t have been too hard for satellite and cable to carry on transmitting the channel where limited bandwidth isn’t an issue.

Instead, it’s been whittled down to a page on iPlayer, with a pink background. The new logo has been widely ridiculed as the same kind of “brand” bullshit that the BBC itself lampooned on W1A – and okay, you shouldn’t judge a whole TV channel an a choice of logo, but it’s not an encouraging sign for how seriously the BBC is taking this channel. And already the BBC is talking about merging BBC Three with Radio 1. The BBC stresses this is just in case online BBC Three fails to get “sufficient traction”. But if they were planning for the online channel’s failure before it had even launched, that throws serious doubts on their supposed belief in a bright online future. Continue reading