Sunday 28th May, 11.45 p.m.: Sorry about the gap. I’ve had a pretty busy day seeing stuff and talking to people, so I’ve not had much time to write things. But now I can hurriedly type this up from the bar in the Warren which – hold the front page – now has wifi that actually works.
So I’m moving on now to And Then Love Walked In. First disclaimer to give you is that if you’re considering seeing this play, you’re already too late. I had to pull a lot of strings to see this without a ticket bought well in advance. Most people probably won’t be so lucky. So I’m afraid this instant review isn’t going to be much use in that regard. Second disclaimer is that they bent over backwards to let me in, so I am in a situation I try to avoid where I’m reviewing a play where I feel I owe them something.
That caveat said, I know what to expect from Wired Theatre’s kind of site-specific theatre and they did not disappoint. This play begins with a psychatrist introducing us to his house before a patient walks in. Suddenly, they engage in a private conversation just like we’re not there, which we’re not, because as regulars to Wired will know, almost all their plays involve jumping about in time. Once again, they produce a script where a story going over years jumps back and forth as we slowly piece the fragments together. What we get is a marriage once the rocks due to he alcoholism and violent temper; repaired after he gives up drinking; and falls apart together after their only daughter goes to live in Sweden with her boyfriend. The wife gets involved with the Polish neighbour, whilst husband gets involved with one of his clients. It is not clear who cheated first, but he couldn’t have helped his caused by telling his wife he only started seeing her after she stopped being a client and therefore had no professional interest (true, but that’s not really the point). Wired has in the past sometimes got too complicated and made the story difficult to follow, but in recent years they’ve got better at this. One small criticism is that I’m not sure a Wired newbie would realise pushing a door handle up in time signifies a change in time, but on the whole the plot threads stay under control and you don’t have trouble following this.
The only real criticism I have is that this play feels like a jack of all trades but a master of none. Although the play does have a distinctive feature in that our psychiatrist’s sanity is the one that crumbles and reality starts to mix into his own dreams and illusions, it didn’t manage anything as moving as a wife coming to terms with her husband’s secret life in Dancing in the Dark, or exploring politics of times gone by to the depth of Come Unto These Yellow Sands or All Found and Up for Action. But it’s a nice addition to their series that lives up to their expectations, and the only real pity is that so few people could see this play. In the meantime, the lesson for next year is book early, and I don’t mean days in advance but weeks.
So, two plays reviews, backlog of four already. Will try to catch up tomorrow.
Sunday 28th May, 10.30 a.m.: Still reeling over how bad that play was from yesterday, especially now that I’ve discovered it’s got a 4* review from a previous fringe run. I think that’s this year’s “How the hell did that get four stars?” award sewn up.
But that’s enough of that. I must get on with reviews. So first up is Gratiano. This has previously earned mixed reviews from its Edinburgh run last year, and it’s not too surprising when you see how ambitious a concept this was. It’s a retelling of The Merchant of Venice, but transplanted to Mussolini’s Italy. Not only that, but the story is extended way beyond the pound of flesh-based courtroom showdown between Shylock, Bassanio. In this version, none of the characters are particularly savoury, and now Gratiano has is being held by police on suspicion of murdering his old friend Bassanio. So different is this to other retellings, it’s really just a matter of preference whether or not you buy into this concept, especially if you’re a Shakespeare purist.
But if you do, and I’m one of the people who did, this is done very cleverly. Shylock is still the vindictive character he was in the original, but with Jews not particularly well liked in Fascist Italy, he’s now more sinned against than sinning. Certainly Gratiano’s mob is poised to beat him to death the moment he tries to take the pound of flesh, no matter what the law decrees. And the heroes of Shakespeare’s tales, as well as all getting behind Il Duce’s ideas, also exploit and betray each other at the drop of a hat. It is a very clever reworking of the relationships of these characters, all done as a solo performance; the only plot thread that I felt needed more explaining was an affair between Gratiano and Shylock’s daughter.
The Unknown Soldier will remain Ross Ericson’s smash hit here – the concept behind that play was a master stroke of inspiration that will be very difficult to top. But it’s just as bold and original a concept. The only way of knowing for certain if you’ll like this is to just go ahead a see it, but the portrayal of what would have happened in Venice a little later in history adds a chilling twist to a well-known tale.
Saturday 27th May, 11.15 p.m.: And that’s day one concluded. Four plays seen, three of which I won’t review before tomorrow because I need some time to mull these over. The other one will not be reviewed here because this is a blog for stuff that’s good and that play was fucking abominable. (Bribes needed in order to say who.)
Whilst you’re waiting for that, as promised, a bit more about the two plays I mentioned earlier. Blink, starting on Monday, This is a wonderful play from Phil Porter that went to the Edinburgh Fringe and then toured, and has the very rare quality that it got me emotional, and I’m a cold heartless bastard normally. This is production from a completely different company, Peppered Wit, who say they are bringing their own interpretation to the script. It’ll be a tough challenge to live up to the standards of Nabokov’s original, but I look forward to seeing how they do. Starts Monday at 5.30 in Sweet Waterfront 1.
And the other one starting that day is BADD which stands for Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons, which I actually remember the first time round. This was a censorship campaign based on ludicrous claims about the role-playing game the relied on whipping up hysteria about something that plenty of people had heard of but few people had understood. I know little about the play itself, only the subject material, but I look forward to seeing their take on it. This starts on Monday at 8 in Sweet Waterfront 2.
Oh Christ, I’m about to fall asleep. 6 a.m. starts are a bugger.
Saturday 27th May, 3.30 p.m.: So that’s the first play seen. Rather than review it straight away, I’m going to deliberate on this, because it’s a very different and very bold concept. I’m minded to give a good one though.
Other than that I’m currently sulking because the heatwave buggered off the moment I arrived here, and the weather forecast say it’s to resume the moment I leave. Bastards.
Next thing to do today is hope I can wangle a ticket for Wired Theatre’s play. Unfortunately, once Brighton Fringe have run out of their allocation, there really is no other option than turn up and hope you can get one at the door. Still, I got away with that last year, so who knows?
Saturday 27th May, 9.30 a.m.: Whilst I’m waiting to get into London, a chance to quickly look at what’s coming up in the next few days. Apart from the terriffic I Am Beast starting today which I’ve already banged on about and I’m tasking the opportunity to bang on about today, there’s three other thinks coming up.
As Blooming draws to a close today, Mankind’s other show, Between You and Me, gets going tomorrow. Whilst Blooming seems to focus on finding a new life for yourself after abuse, this play stays on the subject itself and hears the story other people’s experiences. This runs for only two days, tomorrow and Monday, at 11 a.m. in the Rialto Theatre.
Then starting on Monday, two shows start at Sweet Venues, Blink and BADD (aka Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons). However, I will have to get back to those later as I’ve not got long before I arrive in London now.
And it’s raining. Bollocks. What happened to this heatwave?
Saturday 27th May, 7.30 a.m.: And here I come. Just got on the train and currently sitting at Darlington station. One small thing not theatre-related is that I had the unexpected sight in Durham of hot air balloons all over the place. Wonder what it is.
But I have no time to think about hot air balloons. You want the reviews, don’t you. For those new to this, from this point forth I’ll be switching to several updates per day, with instant reactions to plays included. Not just yet though. I have to make it to Brighton first. Bear with me.
Friday 26th May: Okay, that’s it. All packed. Off to Brighton tomorrow.
Before I get too stuck into Brighton, one last look back at the north-east. I will aim to get my new list of what’s worth watching up shortly, but before then, I am going to wholeheartedly recommend The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I don’t make recommendations of Newcastle Theatre Royal or other big theatres, where the big budgets often go into flashy staging rather than good stories, but this one is exceptional. Many good reasons to watch this, but the main one off the top of my head is that the director, Marianne Elliott, is the one responsible for War Horse, and the staging here is just as good, if not better. It begins on Tuesday and has a two-week run. I can’t get the Newcastle Theatre Royal website to work right now, so for further information you can read this page instead.
Bed time. 6 a.m. start tomorrow. Bugger.
Thursday 25th May: So with my journey to Brighton looming imminently, I can stop talking about other reviews and look at my own. So, a reminder of the ground rules:
Every play I see is eligible for review. If it’s good, or it has potential, it will get a review here in the live coverage for immediate reaction, and a more considered review when I do my roundup. Beyond that, I do not make any attempt to select notable plays and what I see is entirely decided by what I want to see as a punter.
However, you are welcome to invite me to review your play, and if you supply me with a press ticket, I will normally prioritise seeing you over other plays. If I get a large number of requests I may have to say no to some reviews, but I do not expect that to happen in Brighton. (It may happen in Edinburgh, and I’ve set some categories of things I won’t review there, but I’ll talk about that closer to the time.) Please be aware, however, that you get no other favours for supplying a press ticket. I might decide you’re great, and if you’re really good I might bang on about you for years to come, but you won’t get better feedback just because I got a free ticket. That’s the summary. If you want the full rules, they are here and here.
A reminder that I’m around 27th-30th. (I’m returning to Durham on the 31st but I won’t have time to see things before then.) Regardless of what you do, I hope you give me a lot of reasons to be positive over those four days.
Wednesday 24th May: Right, where were we?
Grist to the Mill are coming back with their final showing of The Unknown Soldier and Gratiano, one each. Gratiano got a Highly Recommended from Fringereview earlier in the month, but I’d heard nothing from The Unknown Soldier until yesterday when a review came through quite a while after their most recent performance. Normally this would be no big deal is this play is already drowning in praise from Edinburgh, but this one is a 4* from The Independent. Now, that is something. Reviews from the broadsheets (or websites formerly circulating as broadsheets) at the Brighton Fringe are virtually unheard of, with most looking at Brighton Festival. Very big deal to get their attention, let alone the good review.
Changing the subject a little, another successful show that’s left the Brighton Fringe is Mobile and that is now coming to Sunderland on Friday and Saturday. There are details here, but I’d advise getting a move on because two of the twelve showings are already sold out and another two are going fast.
And it’s not long until I’m coming now. Saturday’s not that far off. Oh heck.
Tuesday 23rd May: And today, a rude awakening for everyone in the Brighton Fringe bubble that there’s things going on elsewhere that are more important than who’s getting a good review. Two years ago it was an air show crash along the coast; this time it’s what’s gone on in Manchester.
So I’m taking a day’s break from Fringe coverage as I suspect not many people will be in the mood for this today. In the meantime, usual thing to say whenever anything like this happens. Please try to hold off any finger-pointing until the Police tell us more about who this bomber is and who, if anyone, he’s connected to. Joining the dots before we know where the dots are isn’t helpful.
I’ll go back to coverage tomorrow.
Monday 22nd May: All right, I think we are close enough to the start date for me to now be able to legitimately bang on about my absolute favourite play starting on Saturday, I Am Beast. Sparkle and Dark has been one of their groups ever since The Clock Master in 2010. At the time, they were a puppetry-based group doing family plays, but as their name suggests, their fairy tales were rather dark. Since then, they’ve got darker, with the plays now aimed at adults with subject material moving from nuclear war to euthanasia and now, in this play, bereavement, depression and escapism. After a year’s break, they are back for a second tour.
If you haven’t seen Sparkle and Dark, they’re as good as they are through a superb collaboration of the three core members: Louisa Ashton who writes and performs, Lawrence Illsley who always comes up with perfect live music for the plays, and some excellent staging and choreography led by Shelley-Knowles Dixon. This is the story of Ellie, who escapes the world as Blaze, a superhero in Paradise City fighting the evil Doctor Oblivion, whilst searching for her missing partner Silver. Except that Silver is actually her mother, Doctor Oblivion gets more like the father she blames, and his new partner is also the wicked sexy Yolanda. Then the “Beast” arrives in her fantasies, and then fantasy and reality blur, until teeters scarily on the edge what destruction is imaginary or real.
Apologies for blog regulars who’ve seen me say this many times before. However, for blog regulars, along with anyone who saw this in 2015, I can advise you there are a few changes. The cast has grown from four to five, there is now a new character called Captain Lighting, and there’s a second mini-beast. I don’t know how this is going to affect the story, but it looks like there’s been more than a few tweaks since its last performance. And the play is now 20 minutes, so it looks like some new story in it. They are being tighted-lipped about this, so I look forward to seeing how this has changed.
It runs until Saturday to Monday at 4.00 p.m. in The Warren, and it’s in the Main House, so someone thinks this is going to sell very well, and quite rightly too. It’s a bit more than your average ticket price, but trust me, it is worth every penny.
There’s actually quite a lot of things coming up in the next few days, so I’ll probably continue with other recommendations tomorrow.
Sunday 21st May: So Richard III has done well. Two reviews in so far, a 4* from Fringeguru and an Oustanding from Fringereview. There may still be more reviews to come, but after all the good reputation going into the fringe, we can conclude beyond reasonable doubt this will be one of the winners of the fringe.
No news yet on ticket sales at the half-way point. Can’t remember when we heard the news this time last year, but if I hear nothing in a couple more days I’ll begin to wonder.
Whilst I wait for more news, I’ve done something completely different. For once I’ve written about something not theatre-related or even arts-related. Inspired by Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement, I have decided to write Chris’s Hierarchy of Appealing to Authority. This is my hope that in the run-up to the election, people might be encouraged to back up their outlandish claims with something a little more credible than the dreaded “Studies show …”
Yes, another slow news day. Never mind, tomorrow I think I can legitimately start banging on about my clear favourite of the fringe now that it’s coming up.
Saturday 20th May: Now for another break from Brighton coverage to take a look ahead to Buxton. As well as the arrival of the Rotunda, the other big change has been the relocation of Underground Venues to The Old Clubhouse over the road. As I wrote earlier this year, the big change was that the venue that accounts for the biggest share of the fringe programme had gained one space but lost two. And this raised the question of whether this would cause the fringe to shrink. This was certainly a scenario that had to be contemplated. Taking a rough estimate of the number of shows fit into one space and supposing these acts in the shortfall opted to abandon Buxton plans rather than find a last-minute alternative venue, one would expect a reduction in the overall number at the fringe, even with the Rotunda offsetting this.
And yet, against such expectations, it’s gone up, from a previous all-time high of 170 to a new record of 183. Is there a catch? Examining the listings, there seem to be a lot of plays on for two performances instead of three as was standard last year, presumably an effect of the UV squeeze. Perhaps it would be better to consider performances instead of registrations. But that’s gone up too. Has Buxton Fringe grown in spite of the venue shortage?
Well, not necessarily. The complicating factor this time round is the appearance of the Buxton Fringe Festival. The Old Clubhouse does actually have a second performance space in a room where a refrigerator used to be. It’s too small for full plays, so instead there are going to be small-scale things throughout the day. But each day counts as a performance in the fringe programme, which makes it difficult to do a like-for-like comparison between 2017 and 2016.
At some point, I intend to do some more detailed analysis to decide if the fringe has grown or shrunk, as well as calculate the new balance of power between the venues. Expect this all to be temporary though. The last I’ve heard is that Underground Venues hopes to be back to full strength for 2018, so it could be all change again.
No immediate prospect of toppling Brighton as the biggest fringe in England. They can sleep east there.
Friday 19th May: Holy shit, Wired Theatre are completely sold out, apart from one performance of the 4th June, and this is without the help of any reviews. Either the word-of-mouth publicity is doing the job for them, or their reputation is so good anything will sell out.
Well, when I say sold out, it’s the allocation to the Brighton Fringe box office that’s sold out. There are some tickets available on the door, according to their website. Damn, looks like I’ll be coming along and hoping for the best. Wired, if you’re reading this, can’t we persuade you to do some extra performances just like successful acts in Edinburgh do? Pleeeeease.
Changing the subject, the other thing to look out for this weekend is news on how ticket sales for the whole festival are doing. Don’t expect anything specific, but if it’s good news, they’ll say someone to that effect. If we hear nothing, the chances are the news is not so good. Watch this space.
Thursday 18th May: Slow news day today. Tom Dussek’s Doing What It Says On The Tin has managed to get a four-star review from Broadway Baby. This is not really a surprise at the play already has plenty of good reviews from its last outing in 2014, and anything less would have been a disappointment, but he should be pleased he’s kept up with expectations from the last run. You have two more changes to catch this on Sunday or Monday at the Rialto Theatre.
I’ve also seen a second review for Die Die Die Old People Die appear in FringeReview, and this is an outstanding, which as I’ve said before roughly translates to a five-star review. Reading both this and the three-star one, it seems – as I suspected all along for a group this experimental – this is Marmite play, where you’ll either love or hate what they did. Anyway, they only did one performance so that’s probably all we’ll hear from them this time round – if this goes to Edinburgh there’s still all to play for.
Wednesday 17th May: Time for another look at what’s coming up now. On Friday, Patrick Sandford beings his new solo show Blooming. He is, of course, best known for Groomed, which won an unprecedented amount of praise for his very homest account of his abuse as a child. This time, however, he’s switching attention to something considerably more cheery, where 100 people were asked the question “How do you know when you’re happy?” But whilst they may be primarily intended as a change of tone, surely part of the intention of this play must be the message that people who have the worst things happen to them can put it behind them and find happiness again. This is on at Sweet Dukebox at 7.10 p.m. for the first three days.
Then on Saturday, Off-Off-Off-Broadway commence their four-day run of Hidden Mother at The Warren, 12.30 on Saturday and Sunday then 8.30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. This theatre company are best known for Peaceful, a ghost story with a superbly atmospheric staging and sound. I didn’t manage so see this one when it came to Buxton last year, and it’s get mixed reviews so far, but whatever you think of this, you can be music, surrealism and a stylistic play that is distinctly theirs.
Staring today, however, is Emily Carding’s one-woman Richard III. I’ve not seen this but I’ve heard a lot of good things about this one. It seem the clue is in the phrase “What part will you play?”, but I don’t know how this works, except that when you’re dead, you get a sticker saying so. So expect one if you are picked to play one of the nephews.
I suppose this might be a good time to put in my 2p’s worth on this ongoing debate of gender-inversed Shakespeare, seeing as everyone else seems to have an opinion of this. It’s not so much this one, but there’s quite a row going on over a gender-inversed production of Twelfth Night that’s just finished at the National. Some people seem to this this is the most important breakthrough in theatre ever ever ever, and other people are dead against this. It really shouldn’t concern me that much – I’ve never really got Shakespeare the way other people rave about it – but I’ll chip in anyway.
It is true to say there aren’t many good parts in Shakespeare plays for women. This is a problem with a lot of old plays; some of it may be down to women not getting a great deal of interesting roles in real life, some of it may be down to writers simply making all parts male by default. One obvious defence Old Shakey has is that in his day there wasn’t much point in writing lots of good parts for women because they weren’t allowed on stage anyway – who knows, he might have done things differently if he knew what would happen in the next four centuries, but he didn’t. However, that’s no consolation to all the women who don’t get one of the few roles available, certainly not when Shakespeare accounts for a vast proportion of all theatre performances.
Fortunately, there’s a solution that doesn’t apply as strongly other writer. The convention for Shakespeare is that you can do original takes on a Shakespeare play and change anything you like except the script. An Argentinian Tango-theme Midsummer Night’s Dream? Henry V in lyrca? Hamlet on the moon? Provided the audience buy into it, anything goes. So compared to all of the other fresh takes on Shakespeare, changing a gender of a lead character (or a woman playing a man, or vice versa) doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary. The only question is whether it rings true to the audience. No-one can predict in advance whether something like this will work, but I say let anyone give it go. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. There’s more than enough conventional Shakespeare productions out there to watch instead.
I will add, however, that this principle of “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it” works both ways, not just for gender-inverted Shakespeare but the whole concept of traditional Shakespeare verses unconventional Shakespeare. No-one I’m aware of has gone so far as to say traditional Shakespeare or unconventional Shakespeare shouldn’t be performed, but I do sometimes see some incredibly dismissive attitudes of the “wrong” kind of Shakespeare. The range of Shakespeare productions out there is so vast that traditional and unconventional productions are practically two different genres in their own right. If you don’t enjoy one kind, you have no business telling people who do enjoy it that they shouldn’t. Surely there’s more than enough Shakespeare to cater to everyone’s tastes.
Anyway, I’ve digressed wildly away from one-woman Richard III. To be clear, as far as I’m aware, the praise this play has earned has nothing to do with Bad King Dick being played by a woman, and more to do with the unique way she tells the story. I would be very disappointed if it turned out she got this critical acclaim simply for being a female Richard. Anyway, you’ve got until Sunday to catch this, but if you go, judge it on its own merits. If it’s as good as the critics say, she deserves praise for what she’s done, not who she is.
Tuesday 16th May: I’m back. After trekking through Brussels, Berlin, Innsbruck, Genoa, Zurich and Paris, I’m now back in Durham and I can pay more attention to what’s happening in Brighton. Disappointingly, at no point in my travels did I end up in a sauna with two gorgeous topless Italian girls like in the film Hostel. On the plus side, however, I didn’t get kidnapped and sold on to an international torture ring like in the film Hostel. So I’ve got that to be thankful for.
Today’s update is just a strange thing I’ve noticed. I can’t seem to find Brighton Argus reviews anywhere. Now, the Argus’s website isn’t the easiest one to navigate, so I may have missed it, and it’s also possible that it’s only appearing in print in order to get people to buy papers (which, let’s be fair, they would be within their rights to do). But I’ve not heard anyone mention an Argus review once.
I can find Brighton Festival reviews though. Is the Argus now reviewing the Festival but not the Fringe. That would be a big snub if they have. Can anyone throw any light on this mystery?
Monday 15th May: Not picked up any new news today, so instead I’m going to give my thoughts on a minor row brewing on the reviewing circuit at the moment. It concerns Quentin Letts’ review of Salome. He panned it as pretentious twaddle – I’ve not seen it so I can’t say whether he’s right – but the thing that has stoked people’s ire is this comment:
Young Salome (‘Salome so-called’) is played by Isabella Nefar, silent for the first half of the show. After about 60 minutes she removes her clothes. At a risk of a feminist thunderbolt from Ma Farber, I must say she is jolly fit.
Erm, okay. Ah well, I suppose now’s as good a time as any to give my thoughts on commenting on actors’ appearances, seeing as this debate has come up again. If you can’t be bothered to slog through this, skip to the end for my tl;dr summary.
Now, I wouldn’t go as far to say that an actor’s attractiveness should never ever be commented on. It might be necessary if it’s relevant to the story. That said, however, in the five years I’ve been writing reviews, I have never done this once. The situation has never arisen where it was necessary to comment on this directly. I have commented indirectly – sometimes I have talked about a character being sexy when that affect the plot, which implies I’m also saying the same about the actress playing her – but never directly. I suppose if I ever saw a play where it’s important to the plot that the leading lady is stunningly beautiful and she wasn’t, I might have to say something, but that has never happened, thank God,
However, none of that is relevant here. This comment was one of many swipes at a play panned from start to finish. That was, at best, unprofessional, and at worst, plain childish. If you’re going to take your clothes off on stage or screen, it’s inevitable some people are going to comment on your appearance in the buff, but we expect reviewers to behave with a certain degree of professionalism, even the Daily Mail. It’s really not my job to make Quentin Letts’s argument for him, but I imagine what he was trying to do here is throw in a barb at a certain brand of sex-negative feminism that disapproves of men finding women sexy. If so, he’s entitled to express that opinion, but a review is not the appropriate place to do that.
But but but but but … from the way this paragraph is worded, it seems (well, it’s bleeding obvious) Quentin Letts deliberately wrote it to get a reaction. In which case. he’s probably calculated all along that this sort of outrage will strengthen his profile, not damage it. If you must criticise it, I’d say the far more serious problem with this review is that there’s very little of substance in it – lots of jibes, but very little specific about what’s actually wrong with the play.
So, tl;dr summary: Quentin Letts is an attention-seeker. Please don’t take the bait. You’ll only encourage him.
I’ll go back to Brighton Fringe tomorrow.
Sunday 14th May: Following on from yesterday’s comments on Shiny Town, it’s been pointed out that Dr. Blighty wasn’t entirely a success. I’d forgotten about the light projection on the back of the building, that caused out-of-control crowds and traffic chaos. (I’d been thinking about the lower-key events in the Pavilion Gardens themselves.) It is possible that Brighton and Hove Council might have refused permission because they thought Shiny Town were going to make the same mistakes. Or they may have simply over-reacted and assumed anything in the Pavilion Gardens is bound to go wrong regardless. Doesn’t change my overall view though, that Shiny Town shouldn’t have left planning permission to the last moment.
On the reviews front, Die Die Die Old People Die got a 3* review from The Reviews Hub, but I get the impression that it’s one of these abstract plays that some people will love and other people will find bewildering. Make of it what you will, but it doesn’t really matter now as there was only one performance anyway.
However, the play that seems to be doing very well is Scorched, scooping 5* reviews from Broadway Baby and FringeGuru and an Outstanding from FringeReview, which is pretty much their 5* equivalent. I’m afraid this play, about a WWII pilot in the Sahara, finished its run at the Rialto yesterday, so it’s a bit late me telling you this now. But if there’s one show we should be looking out for in the awards ceremony in three weeks’ time, it could be this one.
Saturday 13th May: Still barely any news to report on reviews. Mobile has got a second glowing review from Fringereview, with the “Must See” rating. I’ve always been a bit confused by Fringereview’s ratings, which don’t seem to be on a linear scale, but it reads like a five-star review. To clarify, reviews are not the be-all-and-end-all of a show’s popularity; word-of-mouth publicity is worth more. But word-of-mouth is difficult to directly measure, so if a show is getting five-star reviews, that can be taken as a reliable indication that word-of-mouth publicity will be strong too.
Changing the subject, one thing that has only just come to my attention is the news of “Shiny Town”. The news is now five days old, but for anyone else who missed it, Shiny Town was supposed to be a pop-up venue in the grounds of Brighton Pavilion in the last week of the fringe. I say “was” and “supposed to” because the whole thing has been cancelled after Brighton and Hove Council refused planning permission. It’s only a small dent in Brighton Fringe’s programme, with six shows gone, but that still massively messes about the people who were booked to perform at that venue. As far as I can see, none of these acts are emerging artists hoping for a big break at Brighton, and they’ll have other opportunities, so it could have been worse (can you imagine this happening to The Warren?), but it’s still embarrassing.
However, whilst I think some questions need asking about why it took Brighton and Hove Council so long to respond, based on the evidence I see, I’d put about 80% of the blame with Shiny Town. If the Argus is correct, the application was lodged on January 16th, very close to the fringe registration date. At fringe registration, you really need to knew for certain you’re going ahead – normally you’d say that to performers, but for a venue this should go without saying. I might have been more forgiving of a returning venue mistakenly believing they could take planning permission for granted, but for a new venue it seems an extremely foolish assumption to make.
I cannot comment on whether the decision itself was correct. Dr. Blighty worked fine in the Pavilion grounds last year, but this looked like a bigger-scale event. Unless Shiny Town Ltd. have a good reason why they were messed about by the Council – who knows, maybe someone told them mid-January was plenty of time – I’d say they should learn their lesson, and hopefully come back next year in a new location and not make this mistake again.
Friday 12th May: Now another pause in Brighton Fringe coverage whilst I turn attention to the next festival on my list, Buxton Fringe. For those of you unfamiliar with the Pauper’s Pit sage, Buxton Fringe 2017 had a big question mark of it when it lost its key venue to developers. In the end, the venue managers relocated to another venue. This has one space instead of two, which has some complicated effects I’m still trying to analyse. However, the twist that no-one saw coming was the appearance of another managed venue, the Rotunda Theatre. They are now sending out press releases, so we can finally stop pieces clues together and start using information on the record.
So, as we already knew, The Rotunda first appeared in the Buxton Fringe programme with seven plays, all down as “Grist to the Mill Theatre Ltd”. That’s actually a little more complicated than it appears: only three of the plays are actual Grist to the Mill products – the other four are plays of other companies being performed under Grist’s name, including Red Dragonfly Productions who are Grist’s partners in this new venue. It seems that for the purposes of the Rotunda, “Grist to the Mill Theatre Ltd” is more of an executive producer than an artistic influence. Whatever the technicalities, it looks like promising line-up; most of the shows I don’t know about, but I’ve heard good things of the ones I do.
More interesting, however, are their clues of where this goes from here. Buxton Fringe isn’t the only place this Rotunda is going to be used – that’s just where it will be launched. (This is hardly surprising, as it would have been a very expensive way of creating a venue only used for 18 days each year.) After that, the plan is to tour it as a medium-sized pop-up theatre in other places, driven by a need, in Ross Ericson’s view, for companies to find suitable places to perform. They say they are not seeking to compete with existing venues but work alongside them. In practice that’s not completely achievable, as all artists are competing with each other for a finite pool of audience whether they like it or not, but I think the idea here is that they want the Rotunda to work as an additional space to an existing theatre that can then book touring productions.
The closest thing I can think of that already exists is Paines Plough’s Roundabout, another pop-up theatre that has been touring in 2014, but I don’t think Roundabout does an organised partnership with theatres like the Rotunda intends to (apart from locating itself in the grounds of Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe). So the big thing to look out for is how the Rotunda’s touring works out, especially how they work with existing theatres. It will also be worth keeping an eye on how ticket sales at Buxton fare, as that could decide whether the Rotunda becomes a one-off or a regular feature.
And, if things work out well: could we see The Rotunda appearing at the Brighton Fringe? Could it even join The Warren, Sweet and Spiegeltent as a fourth super-venue? That would get really interesting.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s wait and see how Buxton does before we speculate on the next move too much. And wait and see about how ticket sales at Brighton fare before we think about whether it can support another venue.
Thursday 11th May: Crikey. One week in already. Better have another look at what’s coming up.
So the big news is that Mobile is the first show on the list to get a review, and it’s five stars from Fringe Guru. I did warn earlier that this show may sell out heavily once word gets around about, and word can’t get about more thoroughly than this. It’s still running until Sunday 14th, but honestly, if you want to see it you should really make a move now.
Jane Postlethwaite begins her new show tomorrow (12th) at Lamb, Nowhere Man, at 7. After that, it show at irregular intervals of about a week. I caught her previous show at Edinburgh last year, and you can expect some more character comedy from residents of “The House”. If you enjoy a dark tone in the style of The League of Gentlemen, you should like this.
On the 13th, Ridiculusmus brings their show Die Die Die Old People Die. This is billed as a snail-pace farce, but the attraction here is their extraordinary level of risk-taking. Unfortunately, you can’t wait and see what other people think of it because it’s there for one performance only, at Komedia at 1.15 p.m.
And then, starting the 14th, Tom Dussek of Tommy O’Quire Fame arrives at the Rialto for Doing What It Says On The Tin. This show actually pre-dates Tommy O’Quire, but the tale of a foul-mouthed workman seemed to go down well back then. I think he means it about the foul mouth, so maybe not one for the children. (There again, this is Brighton, so whatever.) On the 7.30 that day and the day after, then the same two days next week (but a later time).
A reminder that all recommendations, including shows that began last week and are still running, can be seen here.
Wednesday 10th May: I was expecting to start looking at reviews today, to see how the plays I recommended are getting on. But, for some reason, nothing I’ve mentioned has a review yet, at least not that I’ve found.
So instead, my thoughts on a chance to one review site. Fringe Guru has made a change this year that, as well as reviews from this year, the site also shows reviews of plays from previous festivals (Brighton Fringe or otherwise). As far as I can tell, this only applies to four- and five-star reviews, so poor abd average reviews don’t follow plays into future fringes. I wouldn’t normally bother commenting on this, but apparently this was quite heavily debated before they went ahead with this. So, for what it’s worth, the reason I think it’s reasonable for this particular site is that shows that have already been reviewed tend not to be reviewed again. So you can come up with an odd situation where an some shows have excellent reviews but some equally excellent plays don’t show up in the list because they got praise the year before. Now, in theory, shows from previous years can still be promoted through pre-fringe recommendations, and by performers themselves showing star ratings on their posters and flyers. But, in practice, I suspect it doesn’t work that way, and people scanning the listings of reviews so far won’t bother looking for other praise.
(Assuming that there is a rule than poor reviews from previous rules are re-printed, I think that’s a fair rule too. I don’t know whether it’s a good idea to bring back a show that bombed in the reviews, but if you do, it’s only fair to give them another chance. Maybe the 2* from last year has been reworked into a 4*, so don’t drive audiences away any more than you have to.)
Whether this should be adopted by other sites is less clear-cut. Fringeguru deliberately limits the number of plays it reviews to keep up quality, but other sites aim to review more widely, and in that case, there’s a counter-argument that it a returning show is good, you can review it again and it will get a good review again. To some extent, The Reviews Hub does that already, where a touring play may get several reviews in different locations, that could be unanimous or split. So I’ll be interested to see if any other publications choose to follow suit.
Oh, for north-east readers, the reviews of The Red Lion and East is East are up. Enjoy.
Right, bed. Three train journeys to Genoa tomorrow.
UPDATE: Richard Stamp has provided this page that explains exactly how this works. There’s no surprises, and it broadly works as I guessed, but it does have a few clarifications; in particular, what does and doesn’t count as a returning show that gets to use a 4* or 5* review from a previous year. Worth a read.
Tuesday 9th May: Guys and guyettes, apologies for the very late update today. I was planning to do it earlier, but my journey from Berlin to Innsbruck went substantially tits-up. I made it, but only just. Still, these near-misses make these sorts of holidays more exciting, keeping me on my toes. (I had hoped to post an update on the train, but DB have yet to roll out a new invention called train wifi that actually fucking works.)
Anyway, today’s update turns attention back to the north-east, where coverage doesn’t stop just because Brighton is on. This week, East is East finishes its run at Northern Stage. I had high expectations when I recommended it, and it does not disappoint. I will be publishing a review for this shortly (along with The Red Lion at Live Theatre, also good), but here’s your advance notice before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, at Brighton, one show that escaped my radar is The Empress and Me, yet another play from Grist to the Mill of Unknown Solider fame. I’m not sure if Ross Ericson himself is involved in this one, but this one I believe has earned respect in its own right. There’s one more performance on the 12th May at The Rialto at 6 p.m. – after that you’ll have to wait for late in the fringe on the 26th.
Crap, it’s after midnight, it’s not Tuesday 9th any more. Wait, yes it is where you are. Phew. I’m saved.
Monday 8th May: As well as reviews, the other thing I’m looking out for is news on ticket sales do in Brighton. Last year the 20% expansion in fringe registrations gathered a lot of attention, but it was only when news came through of even bigger increases in sales that we could be confident this growth was sustainable. This time we’re looking for growth to sustain a less dramatic 7% rise, so don’t expect any numbers as sensational as last year, but this could still spell a radical transformation if this growth is repeated over the next few years.
In conjunction with this, we need to look at Edinburgh’s figures. So far, for better or worse, Edinburgh is regarded by many as the only fringe of any standing. You certainly don’t get London-based arts journalists decamping to Brighton for a month. But if Edinburgh growth continues to stall and Brighton carries on growing, at some point attitudes will change. Currently, Brighton Fringe is a little short of a third the size of Edinburgh (if you measure size by registrations – if measuring by performances or turnover it’s a lot lower) – the $64,000 question is how much the gap has to close for the balance of power to change.
Don’t expect any early news on ticket sales though. I chatted to Julian Caddy about this last year, and he says that they don’t give exact numbers before the fringe finishes (at least, not on the record) because it’s a volatile number that changes from day to day. But if the growth is good, we may hear something to this effect maybe at the end of week two.
Interesting times ahead.
Sunday 7th May: So with those out the way, the next thing to cover here is how the early starters do when the reviews come out. I’ve not detected any on my radar yet, but my ability to check developments at Brighton is because I’m on on holiday
where I can’t arse about all day on Twitter like I do at work where I’m busy getting all cultured. As soon as I hear something I will let you know. Particularly interested to see how Mobile goes down.
I have a rule that I do not report reviews of shows that I’ve decided to see but yet to watch if I can avoid it. This is because I don’t want my own verdict to be prejudiced by other people’s verdicts. However, this time round, I am introducing a new rule, which is that I now have a list of banned reviewers. It’s a short list, but after last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I became aware of how some reviewers are behaving. So where reviewers have, in my view, blatantly engaged in grossly unethical behaviour, I will exclude them from my coverage. Their reviews will not appear in live coverage articles like this one, and when I collate all the reviews in my roundups, their will be omitted.
Two important things to make clear. Firstly, if I have to ban people, it will apply to all their reviews, not just the ones that got them banned – I’m working on a stance that if you’ve proven yourself untrustworthy for one review, you’ve proven yourself untrustworthy for all of them. Secondly, I will not be publicising who I’ve banned. Much as I hate it when reviewers treat performers unfairly, I do not wish this blog to become a battleground for performers who have grievances against reviewers. Public naming and shaming can remain with Fringepig.
At some point, I will try to write up some proper rules on exactly what constitutes grossly unethical behaviour, but the short version is that if you judge a play on something other than artistic merit and you try to pass it off as a judgement of artistic merit, I will ban you if I find out what you’re up to. It’s something that is hard to prove, and I will always give the benefit of the doubt in unclear cases, which is why I’m restricting this to blatant cases. But you can make this a lot easier for me if you behave yourselves. So behave yourselves, okay?
Saturday 6th May: Apart from Beasts, there are a few other things getting underway. Most notable is Mobile, The Paper Birds’ extraordinarily innovative play in a caravan, with staging like you’ve never seen before. This has a long run up to the 14th May, but don’t get complacent because this may well book up very quickly once word gets round about it.
Wired Theatre also get going this weekend with their latest site-specific play, And then love walked in. They take quite a few gambles with their plays, and not so long ago they could be hit-and-miss, but after last year’s wonderful Dancing in the Dark, this goes into the unmissable category. This shows all weekends throughout the fringe at various times, but again, don’t be complacent. They are know to sell out well in advance if it’s good.
Finally, Ross Ericson from Grist to the Mill has got going with both his plays, runaway success The Unknown Soldier and follow-up Gratiano. Most of the performances are various times over the next week, although there’s a late showing of both plays for anyone coming late to the Fringe.
But Beasts is the now or never one. Tonight only. Hurry hurry hurry.
Friday 5th May: It’s a late update today because I forgot to bring my socket adapter with me. Yes, somehow I’d managed to forget that in foreignland they have different plugs to us, and I was just about to start today’s travel from Brussels when I realised I’d run out of juice on everything. But having made it to Berlin, I’ve finally got my hands on another adapter, and so I can annoy you online again. If anything interesting happened in Brighton, I may have missed it, so let me know if I missed anything. Alternatively, this is your chance to make something up and I won’t know any better. If you’ve always wanted to take me in with a shocking expose that Richard Stamp and Julian Caddy were sighting performing a secret handshake known only to highest orders of the Freemasons, now is your chance.
Anyway, before my battery went flat, I managed to complete my recommendations with the comedy. So we go into the fringe with the following on my list:
I Am Beast
The Unknown Soldier
The Wind in the Willows
And Then Love Walked In
Doing What It Says On The Tin
Between You and Me / Blooming
Die Die Die Old People Die
Richard III: A one-woman show
From the comedy:
BEASTS: Mr. Brighton 2017
Imaginary Porno Charades
Jane Postlethwaite: The House
During this coverage, I will be posting reminders as to what’s coming up as and when they do. It won’t always make sense to do this, for shows that have performances dotted over the month, but for shows with week-long runs I’ll try to notify you of the start and end.
However, the one show that I will remind you about is Beasts, because that’s tomorrow (Saturday 6th), one night only at 8.15 in the Main House of The Warren. So this is your only chance to catch them. But sit on the front row at your own risk. Especially if you’re female and attractive.
(Oh, and concerning my travels, I hope to post the odd photo, but I’ll do that on Twitter. If you’re reading about the Brighton Fringe, I don’t really want to confuse you with a picture of the Atomium.)
Thursday 4th May: Welcome to my live coverage of the Brighton Fringe. This year, I’m doing a late visit and won’t be around until the 27th May. Once I’m there, I will be doing me usual snap reviews of shows, with the roundup coming afterwards. I’m not doing a show myself this year (hooray!), so I can give my undivided attention to reviewing and not go round Brighton looking like an over-stressed madman.
Before then, I will be keeping an eye on what’s going on in Brighton, recommending plays as and when they come up, and seeing how they fare with the other reviews. I’m about to go on holiday for two weeks so my contributions may be sporadic, but I will aim to do daily updates if I can.
The fringe officially starts tomorrow, and although there’s a smattering of things on today, it’s only tomorrow that it really gets going. But the one big event on today is the launch, including the fireworks. A whole programme of events this evening starting at 6.00, viewing site for fireworks opens at 7.30, and the fireworks themselves are at 9.45. As I said last year, a firework display’s a firework display, but what’s significant is that Brighton Fringe is now on a scale where this kind of opening is feasible. I’ll be in Brussels by then, so I’ll just imagine those of you in Brighton gone “whee”.
That’s all for today. Better catch this train. Yes, train. Flying is cheating.