Odds and sods: October 2017

It’s that time of the month again. A roundup of things that happened last month that are worth a mention. A shorter list this time because fewer things than usual came up on my radar. If you’re looking for all things Harvey Weinstein, you can find my thoughts here, where I started off looking at this calmly but got angrier as more hypocrisy came to light. But apart from that, here’s what else has been going on.

Rotunda is returning to Buxton


Buxton Fringe registrations aren’t opening for another month, but already we have news from the High Peak. Grist to the Mill Theatre have confirmed they will be returning to the fringe in 2018, and booking have opened already. This news isn’t a big surprise – the mood had always been that the Rotunda had done well enough to to  make Buxton a regular occurrence – but it’s been confirmed sooner than we expected.

Of more interest is the details of how bookings work. Last time, the bulk of the programme was organised by Grist to the Mill Theatre itself. This time, applications are being advertised more widely. And the other point of note is that booking are being done on a first come, first served basis. This introduces a new complication for prospective fringers. Do you book now in a venue you can definitely have, or apply to a more established programmed venue, wait for an answer, and risk getting neither? Although it’s fair to say this dilemma has always existed for performers thinking of Brighton or Edinburgh – Buxton is simply going the same way.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Last year, everybody who was anybody applied to Underground because the Rotunda wasn’t really known about until the last moment. This time, there’s a choice of two major managed venues. Who will get what?

We still don’t the situation for Underground Venues 2018 yet. It looks highly likely The Old Clubhouse will stay their main home, but we don’t yet know if they are taking on another space to get back to full strength, and this is important for entry-level performers who faced a big squeeze on opportunities last year. But 2018 looks set to be another unpredictable fringe for Buxton.

Waterfront is going in Brighton

Over in Brighton, however, a major venue is going. I’ve known about this for some time off the record, but Sweet Venues are ditching the Waterfront Hotel. The reason, I gather, is that after a successful launch in 2016, new management took over the Waterfront Hotel who were a lot less supportive in 2017. I don’t know the details, but relations got so bad that Sweet chose to ditch them for 2018. However, I was expecting they’d hold off the divorce until they had a replacement lined up – instead, they’ve got ahead and upped sticks regardless.

Sweet Venues tells me they are looking for alternatives for next year, but at it stands, the only two spaces they are programming are the Dukebox and St. Andrew’s Church. This would not quite be a reversal of the arrival of Sweet in 2016, because they’ll still have the management normally based at Edinburgh or Dundee throwing their weight behind Brighton for the fringe, but that would still be the loss of two spaces in managed venues. That’s not quite the same news as is would have been in Buxton; had Buxton lost two managed spaces – which was a real possibility last year – that would probably have been cataclysmic. But that would still be a squeeze on the fringe: my rough calculation is that this would reduce the spaces in managed venues for normal-sized productions from nine to seven.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible for new venues and spaces to be announced during registration, and Underground Venues at the Old Clubhouse did last year. But if Brighton Fringe wants to carry on expanding, they’ll have to keep their fingers crossed this happens.

The Paul Whitelaw experience

I promise to shut up about Whitelawgate after this, but a quick debrief from the Paul Whitelaw experience that I worked into a round trip of London and Stoke. I won’t repeat the background to this – if you want to catch up, you can see last month’s Odds and Sods. But I thought I’d give a quick debrief of a very surreal evening.

Unsurprisingly, in the conversations in the bar before and after the show, there was a lot of anger over the reviews in the Scotsman, not just the star ratings but the contents of the reviews themselves. I suppose it doesn’t help that the Scotsman has a ridiculously short word limit for bad reviews, but the all-round consensus (which I agree with) is there’s no excuse for filling up the little bit of space you have with catty put-downs rather than, I don’t know, saying what you didn’t like. With the comedy itself, stand-up comedy is not my area of expertise, but it made me laugh. Which, as far as I’m aware, is what stand-up comedy is supposed to do. I cannot see any justification for the 1* and 2* ratings.

(One aside: apart from the running joke about the Scotsman hates women trying to be funny, there was nothing particularly contentious in any of the sets. I had wondered if bad reviews had been brought on by excessive gender politics – that would still not have been okay, but at least I’d have understood what was going on. But unless the sets at Edinburgh were wildly different from the sets in the Bill Murray, that is not the case. I didn’t hear anything that remotely came across as gender politics, other than the charity they were raising for that was completely uncontroversial. So I am no wiser as to what his problem was.)

There is, however, one effect I hadn’t realised. I might be speaking out of turn here, but I got the impression what these reviews have been a big blow to the confidence of some of the comedians. Even though the credibility of these reviews has been thoroughly debunked. I have a theory that when a person or a publication is viewed as an authority on artistic merit and they say you’re crap, part of you believes that. Even if it’s obvious to you, me and everyone else that they’re talking bollocks.

As I said, this is only my impression, so please correct me if I’m wrong. But I’m increasingly coming to the view that if would do the Edinburgh Fringe a lot of good if we stopped treating The Scotsman with the reverence it currently enjoys. It’s not just one comedy reviewer that’s the problem; far too often they dismiss good plays with 1* and 2* reviews with no explanation, and then other reviewers feel pressured to agree with their supposedly superior judgement. Sure, they have some decent reviewers, but in my books they’ve done more than enough to squander their reputation as the definitive arbiters of good fringe. I really hope they re-think their approach, especially their single-paragraph dismissals. In the meantime, I would urge anyone who’s not an established name at the Edinburgh Fringe to think twice before accepting a review from The Scotsman. It seems you have little to gain and a lot to lose.

Lumiere is coming, so is Lumiere

And finally, the big thing coming up in Durham is of course Lumiere, its two-yearly light festival. The programme was finally announced last month. I will be doing a dedicated preview shortly, so I won’t go over highlights just yet, except one. I highly recommend The Common Good from Shared Space and Light. Last year they delivered what I thought was the hidden gem of the whole festival. Home Sweet Home combined stories of people finding their first homes with some very clever projections on an ordinary house to represent many different homes. This one is going to be the story of public sector workers on the more prominent Miners’ Hall, and if they are as good as they were last time, this could be one of the gems of the festival.

But alongside the news of what’s coming to Lumiere Durham, news has also broken that Lumiere London is returning. This was a big hit back in 2016, with the only problem being that the festival was more successful that anyone had prepared for and the crowds got out of control. That was really the only thing standing in the way of a return. But returned they have. It is not yet clear exactly how they plan to manage crowds – and they’ll need a good plan because there will surely be an even bigger turnout than before – but presumably they have thought of this. Looks like I’ve got a date in the calendar for the new year.

Stuff I wrote in October:

Apart from that, here’s what else I’ve been writing about:

And I promise pace will pick up after this. I’ve more or less finished hibernating now. See you next month for probably the last Odds and Sods of 2017.

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