So that’s April come and gone, and once again, for some reason, nothing really interesting happened for most of April. I was wondering whether there was going to be enough worth reporting to make up an article. But the end of the month came to the rescue with quite a few interesting developments in theatre. What do we have?
What happened in April:
Brighton Fringe on the up?
Two months ago I (and everybody else) reported that Brighton Fringe had an unusually high surge in registrations, from 720 in 2015 to 900 in 2016. Along with this, there is an expansion of The Warren and the arrival of Sweet Venues as a second “supervenue”. Already the increase in registrations has enabled Brighton Fringe to have a firework display for its launch, something that hasn’t been done before. But is this expansion sustainable? It’s no good having a 20% increase in the number of acts if there isn’t a 20% increase in ticket sales to support this.
However, the early indications suggest the opposite. With one week before the start of the Fringe, Brighton Fringe reports an increase in advance sales, and it’s not 20%, it’s 40%. Usual caveats apply: the central fringe box office doesn’t keep track of everything, and the vast majority of tickets are sold during the fringe itself, but it looks like 900 acts will easily be sustainable; and, if anything, this will drive another big increase next year.
Assuming this increase in business is permanent, here’s the next thing to look out for. One notable thing about newcomer Sweet Venues is that most of their shows run for a week, some even longer, and that is largely down to Sweet actively encouraging its acts to run for that length. The idea behind this is to give acts time to be seen and reviewed early in the week, so that this, combined with word-of-mouth publicity, and build up audiences towards the end of the run. This is not too different to Edinburgh, where it’s generally accepted you have to do a long run if you’re serious about being competitive with other acts (except that in Edinburgh, a long run means all three weeks).
So, here’s the big question: if Sweet’s tactic succeeds, will The Warren follow suit and encourage all of their acts to run for a week too? Or will they decide this isn’t necessary? (After all, a lot of The Warren’s acts have built their reputations elsewhere.) If The Warren does go the same way as Sweet, that will all but make a week-long run the standard thing to do in Brighton Not as long as the three-week standard of Edinburgh, but it will make the Brighton Fringe a lot more like its Scottish cousin. We have an interesting month ahead of us.
An unlikely endorsement for Boris: World King
Now, let’s move north from Brighton to London. I wrote two months ago about the West End run of Boris: World King, the comedy show from the nation’s favourite fake Boris Johnson. I haven’t paid much attention to how the reviews have gone because I wasn’t expecting anything but a continuation of the glowing reviews in Edinburgh. I mean, even the Daily Mail likes Boris. Surely there’s no room left for surprises?
But no, apparently, there is. A few nights ago, who should come to see the play but Boris Johnson’s own mother and sister? Even more surprising: they liked it. And the strangest twist: they described his portrayal as “surprisingly sympathetic”. For a play that eviscerates Boris’s comedy persona, that’s the last endorsement I’d have expected.
In the meantime, however, the good news is that Tom and Yaz aren’t upping sticks and moving to Hollywood just yet. Buxton fringe regulars get the latest Three’s Company offering of Nonsense and Sensibility – knowing Tom’s writing this will probably feature some sort of audience participation, but we shall find out in July.
LiveWorks Quayside ready to open
Moving further northwards still, it’s up to Newcastle where a major scheme by Live Theatre is nearing completion. To some extent, LiveWorks Quayside is a repeat of The Schoolhouse, where an adjoining building was incorporated into Live to house “creative businesses”, but on a substantially larger scale. It’s built on previously empty land (including amongst other things, finally filling an annoying gap in the buildings along the quayside); and as well as creative businesses, there will be a new outdoor park/performance space called “Live Gardens”, and a new space for their youth theatre work. When The Schoolhouse was done, there wasn’t much difference noticeable to the public apart from larger toilets. Live Gardens will be a much bigger difference, and looks set to have a use as a summer performance venue.
Nevertheless, LiveWorks and The Schoohouse between them means that Live Theatre now has a substantial business interest as a landlord for other businesses. Should a theatre be getting involved in this sort of thing? There’s an argument that theatres should concentrate on making theatre. But I’m actually okay with this. The way I see it, with arts subsidies getting tighter, theatres have to make smarter use of their money, and this is as good a way as any. At the risk of getting all capitalist breadhead over this, this is a good place for a creative business to be because working in an office associated with a nationally prestigious new writing theatre can only be a draw for the workforce you need. And the better a place it is for creative businesses, the more businesses want to work there, and the law of supply and demand says that the more more businesses want to work there, the higher rents they can charge. In short: this is an opportune way for Live to get a windfall to put into making theatre.
As it is, the current hot bet is that the entire commercial space is being rented by a single company. If this is confirmed, it will be a very interesting development, and could have substantial implications depending on who it is. But I’ll hold off further speculation until we know for sure.
Network of Independent Critics
Finally this months, hey, we’ve gone north from Brighton to Newcastle, so let’s finish with something in Edinburgh. A scheme that has come together in the last few months is the “Network of Independent Critics”. At the moment, it’s a largely informal operation largely run by two theatre bloggers, Laura Kressly and Katherine Kavanagh, but the big project is to accommodate 24 independent theatre bloggers in Edinburgh to review the Fringe, with each group of eight staying one of the three weeks. The 24 have been shortlisted, and a crowdfunding campaign is currently underway to help with the costs.
(In case you were wondering, no, I didn’t apply to be part of the scheme. I considered applying, but decided against it. I had three reasons: firstly, other people need this more than me, because I’ll going anyway but other people might depend on this; secondly, I’ve decided I like to split my visit rather one continuous stay; and thirdly, this was aimed at “specialist” critics – I think a focus on specialist critics is a reasonable priority, but my blog is non-specialised by choice, unless you count snarky digressions as a speciality, which I presume they don’t.)
The crowdfunding campaign is still ongoing. I’ve chipped in a fiver to this, and you should too. I have a couple of reservations about this scheme, which I’ll come back to another day, but it’s a worthwhile scheme, and the broader the views are of work coming out the Edinburgh Fringe and elsewhere, the better. I’ll be monitoring this as things develop, and it’s going to be fascinating to see what becomes of this.
Things I wrote in April:
Okay, that’s all this month I’m afraid. Usually I find six things to write about, this time it’s just four. If you’re itching for more, here’s a roundup of what else I wrote about last month:
- A masterpiece of Mice and Men: Took me ages to find the time to write the review, but the production between Birmingham Rep and Touring Consortium is outstanding. It’s still touring, highly recommend catching it if you can.
- What’s worth watching: Brighton Fringe 2016: The big one. My usual list of things I can safely recommend to you at the aforementioned arts festival on the south coast of England. I will update this with recommendations for comedy shortly.
- Get Carter: Carter without Caine: Before Brighton Fringe coverage begins in earnest, there are three productions I saw locally which I heartily endorse. Northern Stage’s brutal adaptation of Get Carter is up now; Flare Path and German Skerries will be coming soon.
And that’s all for April. I won’t be doing an odds and sods for May; instead, any interesting things that happen will appear in my Brighton Fringe coverage, so this will be back at the end of June. Until then, happy theatring.