And it’s another slow news month. In theatre, that is. Not such a slow news month elsewhere. But we don’t talk about that.
Here’s what’s been happening back and forth in theatre land.
Stuff that happened in November
Goodbye Empty Shop HQ
So it’s confirmed. Empty Shop really are letting Empty Shop HQ go, for a number of reasons given in their own blog post. It’s not clear how much the redevelopment of the Milburngate Centre has to do with the decision, but Empty Shop’s scope is now a lot wider than one venue: the recent addition of TESTT space above the bus station and their work bringing in Miners’ Hall in as a venue are things that were unimaginable when HQ first opened. This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise – I’d heard nothing about plans for what to do about HQ, and no news suggested no plans. Empty Shop is now being run from TESTT Space – which, somewhat paradoxically, means that TESTT Space is now Empty Shop HQ instead of Empty HQ.
This announcement does rule out on theory I had – I’d idly speculated that The Assembly Rooms would temporarily take over the space to help with the current overspill of student productions necessitated by the year-long closure of their theatre. (As far as I can tell, the student productions are managing by using the remaining performance-friendly spaces in the university more intensively.) However, this does leave a question mark hanging over the future of inclusive performance spaces in Durham. TESTT, at the moment, is heavily focusing on visual arts rather than performance arts. I can’t begin to say how valuable Empty Shop HQ was to me when I was starting off, and I don’t believe I’m the only one here.
There again, I’ve heard various possibilities mooted of future venues and spaces that could take over doing what Empty Shop HQ did. I won’t say any more because it’s a combination of incomplete evidence, speculation and off-the-record info, but perhaps we won’t have to wait too long.
More musical chairs at Brighton
Hot on the heels of the news that Junkyard Dogs is expanding its Brighton Fringe operations from one space to three come some news from The Warren. For the second time this decade, Brighton Fringe’s biggest venue is moving. Out goes the space behind St. Peter’s Church and in comes Victoria Gardens, next to where the Spiegeltent is, in the spot that, until now, is the pop-up home of The Ladyboys of Bangkok. (If you’re wondering what’s happening to that, apparently they’re moving to Hove. (That’s practically a Brighton institution now, so they shouldn’t have any trouble in a less central location.) Also, if I have understood the application form correctly, The Warren is going up from four spaces to five. Major venues taking on additional spaces tends to increase registration figures at Brighton, so this and Junkyard Dogs between them should push up the size of the fringe as a whole. However, I think the more notable change here is that the two biggest venues at the Brighton Fringe are now next to each other.
Is this a good thing or bad thing? There are arguments both ways here. The argument in favour is that Brighton Fringe still struggles to show there’s a fringe on, unlike Edinburgh where you can’t possibly miss the fact. The Warren has done a bit to change this, but with St. Peter’s Church out of the way a bit, it had limited oomph factor – a hub at the more central Victoria Gardens will be a lot more prominent. The argument against: might this create the impression that Victoria Gardens is the Brighton Fringe? It’s never healthy for an open-access fringe if large numbers of people never leave the biggest venues, and that was already happening a little with the old Warren, but a bigger cluster of spaces in one place makes this a lot easier. Good thing or bad, however, this move looks set to be permanent. I understand the move was forced by redevelopment of their old site, but the mood is they like their new site better. We can only see what happens and adjust.
However, there is one other change that has gone by quietly. As I observed last month, Sweet Venues’ Brighton Horrorfest took place in Sweet Werks and Sweet @ The Welly instead of its previous home at The Dukebox. This meant that the future of The Werks at a Sweet Venue was pretty much secured, but it did raise a question of what happened with The Dukebox. And now, on the application form – no Dukebox. I have a suspicion of what happened here, but I’ll refrain from speculating until I have a better idea what went on. But the overall change is that Brighton Fringe as a whole is becoming a tighter event, drifting away from Hove and settling in Brighton.
Last month we got our first clue as to what Barrie Rutter plans to do after Northern Broadsides. But the bigger question is what happens to his successor, Conrad Nelson? He was temporarily appointed for 12 months, which are almost up. Then what? Will it become permanent? Well, we have the first bit of news: Northern Broadsides have commenced the process for recruiting a permanent artistic director, and it’s out as open access. But what does this mean for Conrad Nelson? Will he or won’t he apply?
I tried looking for clues here but drew a blank. No word from Conrad Nelson himself, as far as I’m aware. The closest thing I can find as to his intentions was an interview with The Stage back in October, but that doesn’t really answer things one way or the other. one theory – and by theory I mean baseless speculation – is that he’s not running because Northern Broadsides wouldn’t have put out an open application is no-one else has a realistic chance of winner. The alternative speculation is that he’s running and the firm favourite, but Northern Broadsides nonetheless think it’s only fair to let anyone have a chance, however much the underdog they are.
I’m still hedging my bets that he’s running, and he’ll probably get it, simply because I can’t believe he would decide not to go far it without saying so. But we may have to wait a couple more months before we know the answer to this.
Finally, one bit of news that I was pleased to see. Avid followers of my blog will remember my review for Bump! which I saw at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe and this year’s Vault Festival. Although it was a rom com sticking to the plot of every rom com, it was a lovely play with very energetic choreography and a sharp funny script. Well now writer and half-of-cast Andrew Hollingworth has been named the winner of ABC’s UK Talent Search. (That’s the American ABC, not the Australian one.) This is a competition where entrants submitted videos of them performing ABC comedy and drama scenes, but for anyone who’s seen Bump! is should come as no surprise he’d be a strong contender.
The only down-side to this news is that, whilst Hollingworth enjoys his prize of a one-year deal with ABC, that takes him away from theatre for a year, possibly longer. But if we are to lose him forever to the star-studded strips of LA, there’s few people who’s deserve it more.
Stuff I wrote in November:
Apart from that, here’s what’s been going on here:
Guest post: Sarah Saeed on Lava Elastic and neurodiversity: New to this blog is the guest post, this one on a subject I feel strongly simply because of the number of unhelpful people thinking they’re helping. This is the perspective of someone who gets it.
Odds and sods: October 2018: Catchup of October. Obviously.
Queens of the Coal Age: the last battle: My thought on Maxine Peake’s play on the Parkside Colliery occupation shown at the New Vic.
Two by Two Pints: More reviews of Two and Talking Heads at the Gala, and Two Pints at Live Theatre.
And in the meantime I’ve been catching up on the review in my Edinburgh fringe roundup.
As usual, no Odds and Sods in December because very little happens that month that isn’t pantomimes. But instead I shall end the months with my annual awards. I’ve decided some of these already but not all of them. Come back at the end of the year for something exciting.