Roundup: Brighton Fringe 2016

REVIEWS: Skip to: Something Rotten, Confessions of a Redheaded Coffee Shop Girl, The Bookbinder, 1972: The Future of Sex, The Tale of Tommy O’Quire, Dancing in the DarkThe Sellotape Sisters, Gran Consiglio, Hercules, Morgan and West, Fool, Gods are Fallen and All Safety Gone

The Warren at night

All right, no more procrastinating, let’s get all these reviews of Brighton Fringe plays written up properly. Don’t want to repeat last year’s embarrassment of leaving it until July. This is where I’ll be summing up all my observations from my ten-day visit. The one thing you will not be hearing about here is my own show – I will be writing a new “what I’ve learned” article at a quieter moment when I’ve had a chance to reflect on things further; in the meantime, you can come over to my other website for how it went.

But that’s enough of that. I can’t carry on shamelessly drawing attention to my own show under a flimsy pretence of stressing how important it is to separate my reviews from my own projects. I must get on with writing about the rest of the Fringe. So, I found time to see 15 plays/events whilst in Brighton (17 if you count the late-night entertainment, but I don’t review those), and as always, what I saw largely came down to chance. In addition, I saw one two other plays in the north-east on tours that included the Brighton Fringe either immediately before or immediately after, and these are going in the roundup too. A few plays were on my must-see list where I pulled all the stops to see it, but mostly it was down to whatever happened to be available at the time I had a spare moment. In particular, anything from 8 p.m. onwards was out because of my own commitments. So, as always, please consider this list a cross-section of the worthwhile plays out there rather than an exhaustive list.

These reviews will mostly be restatements of the instant reviews I gave in my live coverage, but there will be a few new thoughts in them now that I’ve had time to think them over. However, it’s going to take time to write up everything, so if you’re waiting for a proper review, you may have to wait a little longer. Sorry.

Okay, here we go …

The headlines

Before I go into the reviews themselves, there’s quite a bit to report about the Fringe as a whole. It’s been a very eventful month with a lot of developments that stand to affect future fringes. Here are the big things to be aware of …

Brighton Fringe on the up?

The big thing that has been talked about this year is how much the Brighton Fringe has grown. First there was the news of the growth in events, which is either 900 up from 720 or 930 up from 780 depending on whose figures you use. Either way, it’s works out at a 20% increase. But would the ticket sales support this? From the start, the indications suggested it would. First there was the news of a 40% increase in advance sales, and halfway through there was still news of a substantial increase, although the extent of the increase was unspecified.

During my coverage, I reported that I’d chatted to Julian Caddy and got a figure, but I agreed not to report this as the figure was still varying wildly from day to day. However, I can now reveal the figure I’d been told was 30%, and it just so happens that this 30% figure went on to become the final figure. So, on the face of it, it looks like the increase in sales in more than enough to sustain the increase in shows, and if anything, will drive further growth for next year.

Or does it? There is a catch to this. The theory that a 30% increase in sales can sustain a 20% increase in shows relies on the assumption this growth is shared out evenly. That might not be the case. In spite of this headline figure, there have been numerous anecdotal reports of shows getting surprisingly poor ticket sales, with a big downturn reported in week three (across Sweet Venues at least). No clear explanation as to what’s going on. It could be that there were a lot of popular shows in the first two weeks that caused the Brighton locals (who make up much of the audience) to be fringed out. Or it might be that the growth is mostly going towards big shows with the small-scale artists missing out.

So whilst we can be sure the Brighton fringe is growing, we can’t yet be sure what it’s growing in to. I guess we’ll have to wait until close of registrations next year to see what sort of growth there is for 2017. But with the surprise 6% fall in the number of Edinburgh Fringe shows, Brighton’s programme has jumped a quarter the size of Edinburgh to a third. Seems that if you want to make a name for yourself but don’t have the means to take on Edinburgh, there’s never been a better time to do Brighton.

The rise of the supervenues?

Sweet Waterfront looking busyOne way that Brighton is becoming more like Edinburgh is the emergence of “super-venues”. For years now, the Edinburgh Fringe has been dominated by four venue chains: Pleasance, Underbelly, Assembly and Gilded Balloon (five if you count C venues), and in recent years something similar happened n Brighton with the growth of The Warren from its original home in The Three and Ten. But before we had a chance to debate whether it’s healthy for a single venue to be so dominant, along came Sweet Venues, known to most as an Edinburgh Fringe venue at the Apex Hotel, Grassmarket. Rather than start from scratch, they joined forces with the management of another pub theatre, the Dukebox, and expanded their operations into two spaces in the Waterfront Hotel, as well as St. Andrew’s Church that the Dukebox was already running.

By all accounts, it’s been a good first year. If The Warren was Brighton Fringe’s Premier League, one might have expected Sweet Venues to be the Championship, but they’ve come in on an even footing. The Brighton Fringe Award (awarded to an Edinburgh Fringe act to transfer to Brighton, won by Police Cops) opted for Sweet as the hosting venue over its more established neighbour, and a quick glance through reviews suggests their shows were doing just as well, maybe even better.

The Warren, however, has not been idle in the face of competition. The jury might be out on who has the better shows, but there’s no doubt that The Warren is the busiest and most visible hub of the Brighton Fringe. It is also arguably the #1 social hub of the fringe – and not everybody’s happy with that. I’ve heard grumblings over the way your bags are searched for drinks in the evening, and some have hinted they think The Warren is more interested in being a drinking venue than an arts venue. Whatever the truth in that, its status as a social hub comes at a price. All four of their pop-up spaces have big noise bleed problems, and if drinkers aren’t noisy enough to distract you, the passing lorries on the A23 are. So maybe it’s not surprising that some performers are opting for Sweet instead. To be fair, The Warren is largely stuck in the location it is due to circumstance, having been evicted from three venues in two years (The Three and Ten, Wagner Hall and the Basement). My advice to The Warren would be to carry on using its current location as its main hub, but look for a new space, away from the crowds, away from the traffic, so that those who need a quieter space have somewhere suitable to perform.

Richard Stamp says:

“I expect you’ll find that if seven-day runs become the norm, then the reviewing system (such as it is) will shift around to accommodate that …”

Read more

But the next big question is what will happen to lengths of runs. A discrepancy has emerged, with many acts at The Warren opting for 3-4 performances, but Sweet Venues encouraging their acts to run for a full week. Is a seven-day run worthwhile? Such as the variations in the fortunes of Sweet’s acts it’s hard to say. One spanner in the works, however, is the plan that seven days would give time for good reviews to boost ticket sales by the end of the week – as many acts discovered to their cost, even getting a review out within seven days is a highly dubious proposition. No idea which way this will go, so far now my wild guess is that Sweet and Warren shows will converge on five performances as the typical run length, a bit like the Rialto is already doing now.

Brighton is not quite in a Edinburgh-style supervenue system as it stands. The big four in Edinburgh have very similar programmes, but The Warren and Sweet Venues are still sufficiently different that they may go in different directions and appeal to different niches. And this is further complicated by the existence of other big venues in Brighton that don’t do much theatre but do a lot of big-name music and cabaret, such as Spiegeltent and Republic. And there’s a whole load of other complicating factors I haven’t even mentioned. So whilst there’s moves towards Brighton getting more like Edinburgh, this is by no means a done deal just yet.

(Full disclosure: I was performing with Sweet Venues so I have a conflict of interest in reporting this, but I promise you there’s nothing I know or think that I’m keeping to myself.)


Production shot from Groomed

Unless you spent the entire Brighton Fringe locked in a wardrobe, you couldn’t miss one show dominating the acclamation. Running for the first two weeks of the fringe, Groomed told the real-life story of performer Patrick Sandford and the sexual abuse he received as a nine-year-old boy. I didn’t review this, but it got a five-star review from virtually every publication for its brutal honesty about the betrayal of his nine-year-old self, and the sense of shame and even felt by him during and after the ordeal. This show, commissioned by charity Mankind, also scooped the top awards from FringeReview, Broadway Baby and FringeGuru (the exact rules for these awards are complicated, but scooping all three is still a phenomenal achievement). It’s not unusual for some shows to get the lion’s share of the attention and acclamation, but a treble like this is unheard of up to now.

The reason I did not review this show was because I was taking a collection for Mankind with my own play, which happened to cover a similar theme. This meant I had too strong a connection to this play, albeit an indirect one, to be able to review it fairly. (Sheer coincidence, by the way, that we were performing in the same space – I didn’t even know about Groomed when I first floated the idea of a collection.) What I think I can safely do, without compromising my impartiality, is point you to all the reviews and add “what they said”.

The other thing I can safely do is endorse what they were campaigning for: The Mankind Pledge. Whilst Mankind welcome the money raised from my shows and other means, what they really want people to do to sign up to a simple pledge to recognise that not all perpetrators of sexual violence are men, and not all victims are women. Part of the reason people like Patrick had to suffer in silence for so long was because of the attitude that this doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter – the louder the voices are saying otherwise, the more likely this will change. So if you can spare a moment to sign this before reading on, I’ll be grateful for that.

An unexpected VIP

Fatboy Slim and a couple ofchildrenFinally, whilst this is of little consequence beyond the novelty value, the big headline-grabber in on the second weekend was of course Fatboy Slim’s unexpected two-hour set at, out of all things, a toddler disco. I assume the version of Eat Sleep Rave Repeat played was a remix that left out the verses, which are all about taking drugs on a night out; in fact, coming to think of it, I also assume also left Fat Boy Slim is Fucking in Heaven off the playlist – there again, this is Brighton. Grateful if any parents there would like to let me know either way.

No surprises he kept his appearance a secret – a sensible bit of crowd management after the million people on Brighton beach. More interesting that he chose a children’s event out of all things. The popular theory is that it’s down to the Brighton Children’s Parade back in March, where three different schools made floats of their favourite local hero DJ. not a bad endorsement, and not a bad way to show year appreciation either.

Pick of the fringe

So six plays made it into my top tier. These are listed in the order I saw them, rather than a rank of preference – and if I was asked to do that it would be a tough call. Here they are:

Something Rotten

Robert Cohen as Uncle ClaudiusThis is slightly bending the rules, because I saw this play shortly before Brighton at a pre-fringe visit to Richmond’s Georgian Theatre. But I’m really glad I made it because this third solo play by writer/performer Robert Cohen does not disappoint in any way. I did wonder whether a play based on Shakespeare would work when the previous two works were more contemporary. But fear not: this monologue from the baddie in Hamlet is easy to follow even if you’ve never seen a Shakespeare play in your life.

Other reviews of Something Rotten:

The Argus: ★★★★★
(+ Argus Angel winner)
FringeGuru: ★★★★

FringeReview*: ★★★★
Broadway Baby: ★★★
The Stage (£): ★★★

So this is a chance for King Claudius to give his side of the story. Told in a series of scenelets where he addresses his court, it’s nothing like that hatchet job of that English author. All he’s doing is holding the kingdom together at a difficult moment of transition following old king’s unexplained death, and marrying the late king’s brother was of course the right thing to do in the interests of continuity, and it would be so much simpler if people would just get on with their business unlike his pesky nephew Hamlet who just won’t stop entertaining these fanciful theories that he was poisoned with Hebanon – did I just say Hebanon? No idea why, been no Hebanon around these parts for ages. Just forget I mentioned that, okay?

Robert Cohen has played a variety of characters, from the serious embittered whistleblower Harvey Matusow to delusional traffic warden Quint, and this time he pulls it off with an outwardly charismatic but inwardly sinister evil uncle. Cohen, however, adds a side to Claudius that is only touched upon in the original. Adding his own backstory but remaining faithful to the play, we learn how much Claudius was wronged: a family who married off his one true love to his brother; a king who promised much and delivered little; and the cruel jester Yorrick who tormented his plight. Cladius even wavers when it’s suggested his relationship to Hamlet might not be what it seems. But he’s in it too deep and there’s no going back now. This is a play that can I can recommend to all from Shakespear’s bittest fams to his biggest novices. And with a good number of positive reviews, Edinburgh must be tempting as a next stop.

Confessions of a Red-Headed Coffee Shop Girl

Rebecca Perry as a Redheaded Coffee Shop GirlThis review was embargoed during my time in Brighton as Rebecca Perry was performing in the same venue as me. However, I good expectations of this as it stormed the Edinburgh Fringe with an impressive haul of five-star reviews. I would open with a quip that it’s not in the Confessions of a Window Cleaner franchise so don’t get excited, but she’s beaten me to it with that joke and her upcoming sequel is going to be called Adventures of a Red-Headed Coffee Shop Girl. I watched this with a degree of trepidation because she says it’s 90% based on fact (with 10% embellishments), and she’s an anthopology graduate who’s very good at studying humans – therefore, I was dreading the possibility of finding myself in the story (“I worked at Durham station once and there was this guy who kept ordering vanilla lattes. Jesus, he wouldn’t stop trying to chat me up. And he thought he was funny.”) However, I can now advise you you’re probably safe because 1) it’s based a particular coffee shop in Toronto which you almost certainly haven’t visited, and 2) I gather everyone mentioned in the story knows by now, for better or worse.

Other reviews of Confessions of a Redheaded Coffee Shop Girl:

The Reviews Hub: ★★★★
FringeReview*: ★★★★
Broadway Baby: ★★★

Anyway, in this story Joanie Little (Perry’s not-that-ficticious alter ego) is in the all-too-familiar situation of coming out of university with a degree and discovering there’s no jobs for her qualifications. Unless you count using her anthropology skills to make mostly unflattering observations of the customers in the coffee shop where she ended up working, which wasn’t really what she had in mind. And she lives in a flat about the very same coffee shop. Until one day the gorgeous Marco walks in … And from this point on, it’s pretty much into rom com territory, except that this is very easy-going even by the standard of rom coms. Usually the format is 1) they meet; 2) get together; 3) split up after row; 4) make up; 5) live happily ever after. This one skips step 3 and 4 making it the easiest storyline ever, but hey, if it’s based on real events and that’s what happened, that’s what the storyline’s got to be.

So how did this make it into my pick of the fringe? With such a basic plot, it could easily have ended up as something mediocre and forgettable, Rebecca Perry managed to make this into something joyous and memorable. She’s scripted herself a play out of her life that is fast-paced, sharp, observational and funny, and her own performance is just as funny, observational, sharp and fast-paced. Oh yes, and she sings too. She has an alternate life as a jazz singer, and she’s worked into the play, and not the odd song shoehorned but a musical plot perfectly choreographed throughout the play. This play might not be the most taxing on the brain, but it’s a nice play to watch whose performer is its greatest strength. Keep an eye out for what she does next, and I’m not so much talking about her sequel coming soon to Edinburgh, but what she does after that. She’s earned her stripes with her performance in this play and and uncoming sequel – but if she can bring this style over to new plays, that’s when we could hear a lot more of her from years to come.

The Bookbinder

Production shot from The BookbinderThis play from Trick of the Light theatre was the gem in Sweet Brighton’s programme for me. I’ve been a fan of dark fairy-tales for years now (thanks to Sparkle and Dark introducing me to The Clock Master), but this tale – part storytelling and part puppetry – is a masterpiece of this craft, thanks to an excellent collaboration between performer Ralph McCubbin Hopwell and director Hannah Smith. Talking to the audience as if we’re an applicant for a new apprentice, he explains that bookbinding is not an easy profession, which might seem counterintuitive to anyone who thought it might be a dull but safe job – but you’d be wrong on both counts. He warns that you can get lost in a good book, but it’s worse to get lost in a bad one, and he tells the story of an old apprentice who did get himself lost in a bad book, more literally than one would expect.

Other reviews of The Bookbinder:

Broadway Baby: ★★★★★
A Younger Theatre: ★★★★★
FringeReview*: ★★★
The Stage (£): ★★★

For the first fifteen minutes or so, the bookbinder tells us the tale from his desk of a young boy leaving his home, being waved off by a father pretending not to be emotional, and being taking in by an eccentric bookbinder. Told mostly from the desk, it’s still a highly followable story, with McCubbin making creative use of assorted stationary items on the desk. Ah, but that is only the beginning … The story only really gets going when an old woman arrives with an old sinister-looking book that needs mending, and the boy unwisely boasts he can do it overnight. The boasting leads to a moment of carelessness, the mistake leads to a shortcut to finish the job, and the botched job leads to a moment of destruction to cover for his mistake … but this is no ordinary book. There is a whole world inside the book, and by destroying a single page, he has ripped apart the fabric of the land – and the price he must pay to put things right is very high indeed.

Everything about this play is exquisietely crafted. From the moment the old woman arrives, a wonderfully eerie soundtrack plays, a superb job of Tanc Upjohn. Much of the story is told from a beautiful pop-up book setting the scene, but the stroke of genius is the use of the rest of the set. All the things that seemed to be just there for decortation – the lamps, the piles of books, the jug of water – are all there to play vital roles in telling the tale. And they pull every trick in the book for lighting, shillouette and puppets for a stunning production that will appeal to adults and children alike. Really, I cannot do justice to this play in a three-paragraph review – this video will give you an idea of it, but what they do has to be seen to be believed. They’re a New Zealand company who will be leaving the county after the Edinburgh Fringe, so that’ll be your last chance to catch it. So I highly recommend this if you’re going to Edinburgh – trust me on this one, go and you’ll be glad you did.

1972: The Future of Sex

Production shot, just before they all get it on

I saw this play from The Wardrobe Ensemble in Edinburgh last year. It deservedly went down well, they’re now touring it, and I caught them again in Brighton as they took in the Fringe. I’ve already reviewed them in last year’s Edinbrugh Fringe Roundup, so I won’t repeat this in detail. The short version is that this play covers four stories of teenagers in the early 1970s, which may seem all cool and groovy and free-love-tastic, but in reality it’s a confusing world where the formalised old-fashioned lives of their parents still has a big role to play.

Other reviews of 1972: The Future of Sex:

Broadway Baby: ★★★★★
The Reviews Hub: ★★★★

Having seen this a second time, I broadly stand by what I said before. I do stand by what I said about the sex scene: I don’t understand what running around in swimming costumes was meant to achieve. However, apart from that, it’s a good play that is well worth catching on tour, whether or not you were around in that decade, the live music and secret thoughts add a lot to the play, and the master touch is the flashes forward to the future where youthful hopes and dreams and jarred by middle-aged reality and mediocrity.

If there’s one thing I picked up a second time round, it’s a recurring theme – by accident or design – that pornography always seems to spoil relationships by placing unrealistic expectations of sex. Be it D.H. Lawrence in 1925, or Deep Throat in 1972, or in 2016, the idealised depictions always seem to make the perfectly decent real romances into disappointments. Anyway, the short two-might run packed The Old Market and they’ve got another tour starting imminently, so if you haven’t caught them yet, keep an eye out, probably coming soon to a theatre near you.

The Tale of Tommy O’Quire

This is another repeat from a previous fringe, this time same time last year in Brighton. The Tale of Tommy O’Quire was a beautifully piece of rhyming verse telling the story of a boy who went on a quest for treasure from a map he acquired – but his undoing is not the monsters, wolves or skeletons he encountered on his journey, but the burden he bears for the murderous means he acquired the map in the first place. This year, Tom Dussek is back, but instead of a return to the Dukebox, he made it into a site-specific piece in Brighton’s Natural History in partnership with them.

You can read my review from my roundup of last year’s Brighton Fringe, and again, my view is unchanged a second time round, but this edition of the play is a very different production to the one I saw on a conventional stage. One thing that may disappoint some fans of the original production is that the exquisite illustrations (one of the best bits from last year) aren’t used in this version. Instead, Tom Dussek makes use of all sorts of things lying around the musuem, such as a skull for the scary but quite harmless monster in the forest, or the skeletons for the equally scary but equally harmless ghosts in the mines. The most impressive bit, however, is the lighting. Portable multi-coloured strip lights are quite a new thing in theatre, but I’ve been impressed with how effective they are in places where conventional lighting rigs aren’t available. There are green overhead lights to represent the forest, and red lights under grilles to represent rivers of lava, and it all works very effectively.

This edition of the play is quite a different experience from the original version, and whilst some purists might miss some elements of the original, Tom Dussek did such a good job adapting the play into a promenade performance you’d be forgiven for thinking it was written for the Natural History Musuem all along. It’s not clear if either the original version or the new promenade version will be making further apperances to Brighton, but if you’ve seen one, it’s worth seeing the other too.

Dancing in the Dark

And finally, a play from perennial Brighton favourites Wired Theatre, who do a different site-specific piece each year. This year, they performed in 41 Hollingbury Park Road, a house in a confusing area of Brighton where every street seems to be named Hollingbury Park Road/Street/Avenue/Lane and it’s easy to end up on the wrong one. And it sold so well the tickets sold out, and I only got there by turning up without and hoping for the best. But I was in luck, there was a space on the door. And I’m extremely glad I made it because it’s a strong contender for both the best play Wired has ever done and the best play of this year’s fringe.

Other reviews of Dancing in the Dark:

Arts Award Voice: ★★★★★
Broadway Baby
: ★★★★
FringeGuru: ★★★★
FringeReview*: ★★★★
A Younger Theatre: ★★★
The Stage (£): ★★

So, we are brought into a house where a woman show us her her paintings she’s got for sale, when her family unexpectedly barges in to warn her of an expected visit from their controlling mother. In she marches and she demands to know if there’s been a repeat of those goings on down at the flat in Pimlico. But before we can pin down exactly what these goings on are, they all start playing blind man’s buff. For anyone familiar with Wired’s plays, this will come as no surprise, as many of their plays involve the stories darting back and forward in time. But this time they’ve done it a lot better. In previous plays I freqently got lost, but this time, through careful orchestrations of the blind man’s buff game, there’s never any doubt as the where and when we are now. Soon we arrive at funeral of the father, and it emerges the mother barely knows what one of her sons is doing with his life. In fact, the mother can’t seem to relate to any of her children, or approve of them. Then we learn of a daughter who’s married in nothing but name, and another son who made at least one attempt on his life.

Dancing in the Dark is a beautifully crafted play where the story gradually builds on from the snippets, piece by piece. And it’s the latter son’s story that forms the lynchpin of the story. He has a secret that slowly spreads through the family, one which turns out to be related to the aforementioned goings-on in Pimilico, and his wife is one of the last to know – but it’s not what expect. And when the penny drops, everything falls into place. I won’t give the ending away because there’s surely a high chance this one will be returning and I don’t want to give away the spoiler, but it’s a touching scene as the wife learns to adjust to a new kind of husband she didn’t know before.

Only tiny issue to pick out: for all their efforts to make the story easy to follow, it took me ages to work out what the status of the daughter-in-law was. First I thought she was an aunt to the family, then maybe an adoptive sister, but I think she was meant to be a family friend who went on to marry one of the sons. That’s a minor point on its own, but little confusions like this can add up to make a story impossible to follow. But that’s the only issue in an otherwise exquisitely-woven plot. If you haven’t seen this play, badger Wired to bring it back. It is really that good.

Honourable mention:

Now for six plays that didn’t make it into my pick, but nonetheless have things of merit that are worth telling you about.

The Sellotape Sisters

This play came to my attention because of the writer, Lee Mattinson, who’s had a string of hits in the north-east, and whilst I don’t always share the tastes of artists Live and Northern Stage chooses to champion, he is one of my favourites. This time, however, he is collaborating with a southern group called Signal Theatre Company. Set in the 1960s, it’s the day that the 271st and final episode of The Sellotape Sisters is being filmed. This is notable for two things: firstly, it’s such a dreadful soap, it’s a wonder it lasted two episodes, let alone 271; and secondly, it’s an open secret amongst the cast that the two leading ladies are lesbian lovers in real life. So on the final day, the presumably demob-happy writers drop in a plot twist revealing their two characters also to be lesbian lovers. It wouldn’t be a big deal today, but this is the 1960s.

Other reviews of The Sellotape Sisters:

FringeGuru: ★★★★
The Reviews Hub: ★★★

Further complicating matters, however, is that the two demob-happy ladies didn’t bother reading the script and only find out minutes before they’re due to film. One of them is desperate to keep their shameful secret buried by any means necessary – but the other one things it’s perhaps time that their affair should be neither shameful nor a secret, even if it means going off-script in mid-filming. At least, that was the plan. When the filming of the final episode shambolic enough to make the Farndale Townswomen’s Guild look competent and no-one has a clue what’s on-script or off-script anyway, the filming scene culminates into a funny but profound climax.

The thing I like most about this idea is that it did what The Killing of Sister George didn’t: that play was famous/notorious for its lesbian couple, but that was incidental to a story power-struggles and backstabbing, with George and Childie being a normal couple most of the time, albeit a secretive one. This explores the fear of going public, in a decade where it’s the end if the public put two and two together. But I felt the play doesn’t yet achieve that as well as it could do – that bit of the story was hard to follow amongst the farcial filming, and in particular, in the final scene where the three characters speak in interwoven monologues, it chopped and changed between the characters too much to follow what was surely meant to be a profound epilogue of what happened to them in the decades after that fateful day.

However, Signal say their work is under development, and there does seem to be a consensus amongst the reviewers that it’s the final scene that needs the most work. As it stands, this is a funny play with a serious message that doesn’t moralise, but if they can take this on board (and next time perform somewhere without so much noise from passing traffic outside), I’m confident they can turn this from a good play to a great play. With Lee Mattinson still active in the north-east with the upcoming The Season Ticket at Northern Stage, this could be something worth looking out for in the future,

Gran Consilgio

Tom Corradini as Mussolini

History is never kind to the losers of wars, and whilst Adolf Hitler goes down in history as the #1 villain of all time, Benito Mussolini suffered a different history, going down as the laughing stock of World War Two and condemning his fellow Italians to decades of unflattering stereotypes. So Tom Corradini plays Il Duce on the day he is removed from power, with a more sympathetic portrayal, and not one of “He only wanted to conquer the world what’s all the fuss about?” but a man whose humiliation began long before his downfall. (Corradini also did some masterful trolling in Fringe City, but that’s another story.)

Other reviews of Gran Consilgio:

Broadway Baby: ★★★

Awaiting the inevitable verdict of the Grand Council of Fascism, Mussolini complains about how everyone who betrayed him, with some not entirely unreasonable grievances. With many hypocritical enemies and one catastrophic ally, his grand dreams never stood a chance. There was one thing he got sort-of-right though: he thought Stalin was an okay sort of guy, at least as far as non-aggression pacts go. The moment of horror that goes through Mussolini when Hitler demands – as a return favour for bailing him out of his botched invasion of the Balkans – support for an invasion of Russia is one of the key moments of they play.

It’s an enjoyable play covering a lot of interesting themes, but I felt something was lost by jumping back and forth in the timeline so much. There’s clearly a lot to talk about in this play – his early days, his time in the Socialist party and why he turned against it, his rise to power, and his downfall as he was sucked into a war that went out of control – but before we get to know any of these too much it chops and changes to something else. Now, there is another school of thought in other reviews that this kind of erratic narrative perfectly reflects Mussolini’s erratic personality, and I can see where that’s coming from, but for a story this fascinating I’d still go far clarity. Whatever Corradini chooses to do with this, it’s worth catching as an interesting expose of one of man who went down in history as Hitler’s useless sidekick.


This isn’t really theatre. It was down in the comedy section of the fringe and even sort-of qualifies as storytelling, but this is going into the roundup as a fun piece that I’m glad I caught.

A solo performance by Joshua Crisp, he could easily pass himself off a Hercules-a-like in another play, this is a solo piece where he zips through the tales of all twelve labours of Hercules, and given there’s only one hour to do this in – and a techie helpfully counting down the time every ten minutes – he zips through the story at warp speed nine. Even so, you’ll be surprised how much of the epic you can squeeze into four minutes per labour (after the first twelve minutes are spent getting to the point where he’s said the labours in the first place). In telling this, he does impersonations of all the major characters, our hero (?) Hercules, omnipresent prat Zeus, embittered wife Hera (as the whole thing is a power-struggle between the two gods) and Bond-villainesque Eurystheus.

Other reviews of Hercules:

FringeReview*: ★★★★
FringeGuru: ★★★

Another review described this as the tale being told by a trendy RE teacher, but I see this more as how Mark Steel would tell the story. Like many stories of this period, there’s quite a lot of daft things that don’t make sense when you think about it, such as Hercules’s seemingly endless supply of arrows he uses to kill thousands of enemies in one go, and these things stay in the story with a healthy dose of cynicism tagged on. Although Crisp tells the story with about ten time the energy we’d see from Mr Steel. There are hints of pathos in the story, but it’s mostly the indiscriminate bloodbath that seems to dominate Greek legend. This is comedy first and theatre a long way second, but if you’re looking for a light-hearted telling of ancient Greece’s favourite slaughter-fest, this could be for you.

Morgan and West’s Utterly Spiffing Spectacular Magic Show for Kids (and childish grown-ups!)

Morgan and West are firm favourites across the festival fringes, with their formula of time-travelling Victorian magicians and their mixture of theatre, comedy and magic. (Oh, did you know they really were born in Victorian times? It says so here.) Their latest show is is specifically aimed at children, although as they themselves acknowledge in their title, it’s for grown ups too. Truth be told, I didn’t notice a huge amount of difference with this show, the main difference being that the audience participants were all children. This isn’t too surprising – Morgan and West have always been family friendly, but what it basically means is that grown-ups who liked their regular shows will like this one too, and – with maybe the exception of the youngest of kids – children who liked this show will probably like the grown-up ones too.

If there’s one thing of their earlier shows missing, it’s the stories they used to work in. I particularly liked A Grand Adventure for being a grand adventure with magic in, but this format never really appeared in their later shows, tending to be more like straight magic shows (albeit magic shows with exactly the sort of dashing banter you’d expect from these chaps). This one had a sort-of story where Morgan loves kids and West hates them, but I thought it was compulsory that this kind of story has to end with the latter one realising he likes kids after all.

But that’s just my personal preference. They’ve risen to become one of the most iconic magic acts on the fringe scene, and this is no exception. See it and you won’t be disappointed.


Publicity image for Fool

And now, another show with magic in. But whilst Morgan and West is a magic show with a story tagged on to it, this is very much a play with magic put into it. In this play, a young man is in jail awaiting trial for a man he killed with his car, when he gets an unexpected guest in his cell, who rather than doing the traditional prison guard routine of beating up suspects, demands he picks an item on the table, where he does a magic trick. Needless to say, this visitor is not actually a guard, but actually man he doesn’t know who has a bone to pick with him. The young man makes a throwaway remark of “If you’re so magic, why don’t you turn back the clock so this never happened” – but as it happens, this offer is on the table. But little does he know he had an unexpected benefit from the old man’s death, and price of turning the clocks back is higher than he thinks.

Other reviews of Fool:

FringeGuru: ★★★

The tough moral choice that awaits the accused was a great premise, one of the best I saw at the fringe. But as it stands, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to do the premise justice. I really liked the idea of a strange visitor performing unexplained magic tricks, but their relevance to the story just felt forced. It felt odd that the magician was handing items to members of the audience when it’s supposed to be just the two of them in the cell. And there were too many bits of the plot that didn’t make sense: in particular, when it’s pretty obvious this visitor isn’t a guard, lawyer, or anyone else you’d expect to see in a prison, the only natural reaction I would expect to this is to say “Who the hell are you?”

But I do believe Quids In Theatre Company have a gripping piece of drama in this play if they get it right. My own preference would be set this in a courtroom rather than a cell – that’s a more plausible place to be grilled over your misdemeanours, and a more plausible place for there to be onlookers brought in to take part in the magic tricks. The pairing of actors is good, one of them is a good musician who could be utilised more, and if they can get this right, they can make a hit out of this yet.

Gods Have Fallen and All Safety Gone

This final play from Greyscale is another one I didn’t see in Brighton, but I co-incidentally saw the week after at Alphabetti Theatre (a big coup for Alphabetti, as this tour also took in places like the Traverse), and as I’d already decided to include Something Rotten on a similar basis, this goes in too. This play got mixed reviews; the Brighton reviews should be used with caution because it’s had a lot of reviews elsewhere (their web page certain lists a lot of glowing reviews over the years). But it’s clearly a play that splits opinion and that’s it’s mainly down to what people made of the headline premise of two men playing a mother and daughter.

Other reviews of Gods are Fallen and All Safety Gone:

A Younger Theatre: ★★★★FringeGuru: ★★

Should it have been done this way? This play could just as easily have been a naturalistic performance by two women. This is a tough one, but my own preference would have been, on balance, no. There are times when gender-swapping works well in a play, but I’ve found it works the best when it accentuates male or female characteristics. I few years ago I saw an Edinburgh fringe play (On the Bench) that eviscerated the hyper-masculinity of Premier League footballers by having five women mimicking every gesture, and John Godber similarly ridiculed oestrogen-fulled binge drinking by four men in Bouncers. This play, however, doesn’t really have this opportunity. I know the idea is that a real mother and daughter watch the play and the connection is that they are the real characters in the story, and I can see the case for doing this, but for me the over-riding principle is that if you’re going to make one thing complicated, it’s best to keep everything else simple.

Where I think this plays real strength lies is not in the gender-swapping but in the series of short repetitive scenes. It starts as the casualest of casual converstations between mother and daughter, with little more than petty bickering – and then it comes again. And again, And again. Every time there’s something a little different about it, just like Groundhog Day. Except it can’t be Groundhog Day, because the daughter’s details of her life outside keep changing. One moment she said she’s living with her boyfriend, next time they’re not together any more. So how can it be a day repeating itself?

You will have to concentrate to follow this play, and it helps to know in advance the two men play mother and daughter, because if you don’t twig that, the rest won’t make sense either. But, trust me, once you do know this, it’s worth seeing for the moment when the penny drops. That is the best bit of Selma Dimitrijevic’s writing, as the pieces come together slowly at the right time, and once you realise, the rest of it makes sense all along. This is a play that appeals firmly to the fans of experimental theatre and not so much to the conventional, but for those who like the experiemental, it’s worth seeing this very ambitious idea.

Plays I didn’t see

Finally, for completeness, a look at the remainder of my shows on my recommendation list that I didn’t see, usually because they were on the wrong dates.

No obvious winners or losers amongst the other reviews I compiled. I tend to not pay too much attention to reviews of long-standing comedy acts, because the reviews they pile up in Edinburgh tend to matter a lot more than the odd one or two picked in Brighton – and many of them had runs too short to get any reviews –  but here they are for your inspection.

Amongst the plays, no clear winners or losers. As expected, Glengarry Glen Ross attracted the most attention, but the reviews were spilt from a five-star one from the Argus (seems to have disappeared from the interweb but there was one, honest), to a sub-par review from The Reviews Hub, with no clearly-identifiable cause for the split opinion. Hysterical got a mild split of opinion from two reviews – that is not surprising considering how experimental this one way. The Half-Life of Love managed a five-star and a three-star, but maybe a little bit of a let-down considering how well some previous shows of hers went, but, hey, you can show the five-star and bury the three, so probably not too much of a disappointment.

Glengarry+Glen+Ross   Reviews of Glengarry Glen Ross:
Brighton Argus: ★★★★★
Broadway Baby: ★★★★
FringeGuru: ★★★
The Reviews Hub: ★★½ Reviews of Hysterical:
Brighton Argus: ★★★★
Broadway Baby: ★★★   Reviews of The Half-Life of Love
Arts Award Voice: ★★★★★
A Younger Theatre: ★★★ Reviews of Murder She Didn’t Write:
Brighton Argus: ★★★
Chortle   Reviews of Beasts: Mr Brighton 2016
The Reviews Hub: ★★★★

And that’s Brighton 2015 wrapped up. If you made it through all of this, well done. Sime time next year then?

*: A note on other reviews: Fringereview uses its own system of ratings that doesn’t use stars as such (explanation here). For pruposes of brevity, I am using an exchange rate where recommended = 3 stars, highly recommended = 4 stars and outstanding = 5 stars. Don’t read too much into it though – star ratings mean different things to different publications and if you want to really get an idea what they think of a play you’re best off reading the review itself, not and don’t just go on the star rating.

Also, all the reviews listed here are reviews from the Brighton Fringe itself. Some touring shows have been reviewed again by the same publication and got different ratings elsewhere. So it’s best to use these aggregated reviews as a guide rather than anything definitive.

Also also: There doesn’t seem to be any centralised list of reviews for Brighton like there is for Edinburgh, so I’ve been having to rely on Google. If I’ve missed a good review from Brighton, drop me a line and I’ll include it. If I’ve missed a bad review, feel free to keep quiet about it.

One thought on “Roundup: Brighton Fringe 2016

  1. Richard Stamp July 1, 2016 / 2:28 pm

    On the point about seven-day runs and reviews: I *expect* you’ll find that if seven-day runs become the norm, then the reviewing system (such as it is) will shift around to accommodate that. At Fringe Guru at least, we were still geared up to do most of our work at weekends – when Brighton Fringe has traditionally been busiest – and on Mondays and Tuesdays we were catching up and regrouping. Shows at Sweet which opened on Mondays will have fallen into that lull. Longer term though, if the overall pattern changes, then we’ll change our pattern too.

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