What’s worth watching: Buxton Fringe 2016

Eeek. Whilst I’ve been catching up on the Brighton Fringe roundup, Buxton Fringe has been creeping up on me. Better get these recommendations out of the way. I’ve looked through the programme and found six things that stand out for me in theatre. The big news, as I’ve previously reported, is that it looks like this year really will be the final year of Pauper’s Pit and the Barrel Room, arguably the main venue in Buxton.

As always, these recommendations are almost entirely based on the previous performances of the groups involved. Even though I now know quite a lot about who the Buxton regulars are, there are many groups I still haven’t had a chance to see, including some I’ve heard some good things about. So, bearing in mind this is a non-exhaustive list, here’s what I have for you:

(All venues are Underground Venues unless otherwise stated.)

Safe choices:

Two plays make it into my safe choices this time. These two plays are ones where, if the description in the programme and my description here appeal to you, I’m confident you’ll like it for real.

Ms Samantha Mann: Stories of Life, Death, and a Rabbit

Charles Adrian as Samantha MannSamantha Mann, a wonderful creation of Charles Adrian, returns to Buxton for a third year running. This time, Samantha Mann is bringing two shows: this original one, and a second companion piece. I will talk about the companion piece later, but if you only have time to see one, see the original. Although this is down in the comedy section, and even looks like a comedy, but it is in fact one of the best pieces of solo theatre I’ve ever seen. I’ve caught all the previous appearances and you can find my praise dotted through the last two years of this blog.

But if you’re new to this, this is a show where is that inept middle-aged spinster Samantha Mann takes to the stage with her inept poetry. So inept, in fact, it takes half a hour of whittering way with small talk before she gets round to a single poem. But that’s where the play is. It’s in her small talk where she gives away clues about her life, her loneliness, her parents who never cared for her, and a loving brother whose backstory seems to stop dead. There’s a reason for Samantha’s nerves and lack of self-esteem, and as often is the case, the story isn’t in what she means to say, but what she doesn’t mean to say. A highlight of the last two fringes for very good reasons, if you still haven’t seen it, you must catch it this time, on the 19th and 23rd July at 5.45 p.m.

Nonsense and Sensibility

Producxtion shot from Nonsense and SensibilityThere’s no bigger household name in Buxton that Tom Crawshaw and Three’s Company. For the last decade, his plays have amassed a loyal following, but it’s only been the last couple of years where he’s finally hit it big time in Edinburgh, where his show about everybody best-known comedy politican Boris: World King has become a runaway hit. But although Hollywood may be beckoning round the corner, he’s not upping sticks just yet, and he’s brining back to Buxton a return to classic Crawshaw with Nonsense and Sensibility.

And by “classic Crawshaw”, I mean something that looks set to follow in the footsteps of old favourites such as The Importance of Being Frank, where a play of a very similar name is disturbed by 22nd-century time-traveller Velatrix trying to stop Jack and Gwendolynn’s great-great-grandson Frank detonating a nuclear bomb in Buxton Pavillion Gardens starting World War Three. You get the idea. This time, Three’s Company is collaborating with Anonymous is a Woman which in turn seems to be an off-shoot of another Three’s Company project, all-female Shakespeare with Smooth-Faced Gentlemen.

There’s no telling what sort of surrealistic humour is going to be in this derivative of this much-loved Jane Austen tale, although I have heard hint that’s there’s dinosaurs involved somewhere. Whatever we have in store, you can be confident of a very funny very energetic play with probably Three’s Comany’s trademark compulsory audience participant. Go on. You know you want to. Who’d pass up the chance to be in a Tom Crawshaw play? Your chance is on the 8th-11th July, various times.

Bold choice:

Now for four plays. I know less about these, and they could be great or disappointing, but if you want to take a chance and possibly discover the next big thing, this four are worth a look.

Hidden Mother

"Singer" from Hidden MotherThe Off-Off-Off-Broadway Company are well-known Buxton regulars who really made a name for themselves in recent years with ghost story Peaceful. I finally caught up with it last year when a revival came to Buxton, and although it had a somewhat abrupt ending just when things were getting interesting, this thing that really stood out was the superb atmospheric set and sound.

This time, author Polis Loizou, returns with a new play on a similar theme. This is a play where Diana imagines herself to be a famous singer decended from deposed Russian aristocrat, whilst in reality she and her “accompaniant” Leon are really patients in a mental hospital facing closure. It’s a bold choice as it’s a new play, but if Off-Off-Off-Broadway work their magic with the staging again, it should be good. It’s on at the 13th July at 7.30 p.m., then again on the 14th, 20th and 21st July at 7.00 p.m.

Lest We Forget

Publicity shot for Lest We ForgetAnother group of Buxton regulars, Aulos productions came to my attention a couple of years ago when their play First Class won best new writing at Buxton, prompting me to catch up on it in Edinburgh. It’s set a train where three people make the same journey from London to Manchester, except it’s not one train, it’s three different trains in different years … but they shared a single purpose. It was a highly complex play, and the final few minutes got a little too confusing for its own good, but it was impressive to pull off such a detailed plot in such a short amount of time.

This new play is set in the aftermath of World War One, and the description is a short cryptic one. But it looks like the story revolves around the family of a soldier who died a hero in the Somme – and yet questions look set to emerge on whether he really was the hero everyone claimed he was. Again, it’s a bold choice because very few new plays go straight to safe choice, but with a good track record amongst other reviewers, this play looks like a promising one that’s worth catching. You can see it on the 14th July at 5.30 p.m., then the 15th and 17th July at 1.30 p.m.

Romeo and Juliet in Underground

A third group on Buxton regulars on my list is Butterfly theatre, but unlike most Buxton regulars, their plays have the unique quality that they can only be seen in Buxton, because they are specifically designed for Poole’s Cavern, one of Buxton’s many tourist attractions.

They certainly know how to own the space in Poole’s Cavern. With ingenious use of lighting, sound, and fact-paced movement that must surely be a health and safety officer’s worst nightmare as they leap from rock to rock, they provide an experience that’s become a deserved set fixture of Buxton Fringe itinerary. And they do a good job of transplanting any location to a cave – the forest settings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It work particularly well; well, cave fairies are just as cool as forest fairies any day.

However, I’ve put this as a bold choice rather than a safe choice because of the choice of play. Previous hits of Hamlet and Macbeth are obvious choices for a cave, but will Shakespeare’s most famous love story have the same effect? Can a play set in the streets in Verona work underground? It’s a gamble, if it comes off it will be very rewarding, but it’s still a gamble. Possibly the boldest of the bold choices, we shall see. Find out on the 11-16th July, with three performances per day at 5.30 p.m., 7.00 p.m. and 8.30 p.m in Poole’s Cavern.

Ms Samantha Mann: You Bring the Agony, I’ll Bring the Aunt

So now we return to Buxton’s most famous spinster-poetess. This second piece seems to be something that evolved out of a publicity stunt for the original play. Sitting at desk offering to solve dilemmas, this went on to become a show in its own right in London. So far, I’ve chickened out of submitting my own dilemmas (I know they’re meant to be anonymous, but it’s just too likely that people will work out who it came from and who it involves), but I’ve been following this on Twitter and the dilemmas solves online are funny, in a way only prim and proper Samantha Mann could address them.

As I said, if you can only see one Samantha Mann piece, see Stories of Life, Death and a Rabbit because that it surely unbeatable, but if you’ve already seen that and liked it, it looks like it’ll be worth adding this to your list. Even if it is a companion piece to the original, this looks set to be a fun companion piece to counterbalance the pathos of of the other play. It’s on the 18th, 20th and 21st July at 8.45 p.m. and 23rd July at 10.15 p.m (which means you can see a Samantha Mann double bill on the final day if you wish).

From the comedy:

Although it’s a theatre blog, I do see the occasional comedy piece. Excluding the two Samantha Mann shows which I’ve counted as theatre, I have one piece of outright comedy to recommend for you:

BEASTS

The beasts. Fighting.Brace yourself. I discovered them in Brighton two years ago and and I’ve never been able to think of Nelson Mandela, magic shows or burlesque again without sniggering. This three-man sketch troupe consists of the straight haughty man, the nerdy men, and the biggest hairiest man who’s desperate to take off his clothes at the slightest excuse. Their show at the Brighton Fringe was Mr. Brighton so presumably it’s now Mr. Buxton.

With quickfire sketches that get increasingly surrealistic and self-referential, I can be confident you will either be laughing along, or putting your hands in front of your eyes going “Nooooooo!”. Or probably both at the same time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. See this, if you are, on the 22nd July at 10.30 p.m. and 23rd July at 2.45 p.m.

Sorry I’m cutting in fine. I’ll be coming on the 16th-20th, and I look forward to seeing how it all pans out.

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