Brighton Fringe 2021 – as it happens

Saturday 12th June, 6.00 p.m.:

Small update on patronage. Fairly long queue to get into The Warren at 4.00 today. I’m coming across quite a few shows that seem to be either sold out or close to sell-outs. Only weak spot seems to be the times we already know are weak times: straight after work weekdays, early afternoon weekends if hot.

No further updates from Brighton Fringe or any of the venues since the week 1 news we all heard about, but so far, there’s no sign of the start-of-fringe surge easing off.

Saturday 12th June, 2.30 p.m. – Polly, a drag rebellion:

This is the first time I’ve reviews drag cabaret at a fringe. I’m a theatre blogger and cabaret performances, drag or otherwise, are outside my area. But what the hell, this was a review request and Brighton is full of drag performers, so it’s about time I gave this a whirl. From what I know of drag, some drag performers do it for a laugh, whilst others take it very very seriously, with some aiming for convincing ultra-feminine personas and appearances. “Polly”, however, is quite comfortable sporting the big hairy beard of her alter-ego, Joe Stickland, and swaps a fantasy world of glamour and glitz for rants about the state of politics.

This doesn’t mean Polly can’t live in her own fantasy world though. After a rant and a warp-speed rap about her take on politics, she imagines how to put things to rights. She considers setting up a new political party, or just getting everyone to be more caring, but after weighing up the pros and cons she settles on controlling the British monarchy. With a tenuous claim involving a dalliance on the Isle of Wight that puts here something like 300th in line to the throne, and arranging for the 299 ahead of her to all die in tragic accidents, she gets the phone call that starts “Good afternoon, your majesty”. But, sadly, building a better society based on mass murder never works out, and soon Polly finds herself as bad as the people she replaced. Even the world’s most notorious dictators think Polly’s gone a bit too far. And the moral of the story, I guess, is that mass murder to take control of the British throne might seem like a tempting short cut, it’s more rewarding to be nice to people.

Polly/Joe certainly has a commanding stage presence that makes for a good performance. I can’t really comment on whether this bearded drag mass murder/regicide-themed cabaret act is any good, because I don’t have any other bearded drag mass murder/regicide-themed cabaret acts to compare this to. But if you can’t get enough of your bearded drag mass murder/regicide-themed cabaret acts, or you’ve always wondered what a bearded drag mass murder/regicide-themed cabaret act would be like, or you simply like your drag cabaret performaces to be more beard-themed or mass muder/regicide themes, this is the show for you.

Saturday 12th June, 11.00 a.m

Latest from Edinburgh: the Guardian is reporting that Edinburgh Festivals are getting millions of pounds in emergency funding. At present, no details are given about who said this, how many millions this is, or how this is to be distributed between the six festivals. It does, however, reiterate the fears that anyone following this has long since put in the “No shit, Sherlock” list of deductions: the festival may never fully recover.

Have to say, there’s more in this article that concerns me and reassures me. The first thing that gets me uneasy is the weight given in this article to talking down the fringe. Yes, 2019 wasn’t exactly the Fringe’s finest year, but this reads uncomfortably close to the directors of six festivals jostling for limited bailout money and rounding on the fringe as the one who doesn’t deserve that much help. The second thing is an omission on what supporting the fringe means. Unlike most of the festival, the Edinburgh Fringe only does the central administration, with the big financial liabilities lying with the venues. Without that, the mitigation to the damage done to the fringe will be minimal.

However, I will try to propose a more positive scenario. Perhaps the reason Shona Macarthy hasn’t been as vocal as she was a few weeks back is that the Scottish Government have got the message, and they are negotiating a package behind the scenes that she’s sufficiently happy with to go along with it. And it is my understanding that the Pebble Trust’s bailout of Brighton Fringe did extend to financial support of the venues. That was an undisputed success (although there’s still some grumblings about whether venue support was fairly distributed). Maybe the same can be achived here.

However, in the case of the fringe, money may be the least of the problems. The real problem may be the confidence of performers and venues. Brighton Fringe is leading the way on festival recovery. The pop-up festivals from the Big Four in London and Coventry will probably follow. The small fringes in England appear to be in for a good summer. Even if the Edinburgh Fringe itself gets generous support, that won’t necessarily undo an impression surely – setting into many people – that you’ll get a far warmer welcome away from Edinburgh.

Part of me wonders if the Scottish Government are taking Edinburgh’s status as world festival capital for granted. Another part of me wonders if the Scottish Government are setting up Edinburgh Fringe to fail. I have a post coming up where I will consider seven possible futures for the Edinburgh Fringe. As always, hot take and controversy guaranteed.

Friday 11th June, 11.30 p.m.:

And one observation before bed time. One question I will be looking for answers to this weekend is whether the excellent start to Brighton Fringe in the first week can be sustained to the (sort of) mid point. In practice, I don’t think selling the entire forecasting fringe’s sales every week is going to happen, but even a mdoest drop from a start-of-fringe peak would be an excellent result.

Well, one early sign is at The Warren, which I entered at 9.30 tonight, and there were just as many people queuing outside as I saw in the first weekend. Of course, lots of people go the The Warren just to drink, and that doesn’t necessarily mean ticket sales are going at the same rate, but so far, there’s no sign that the excellent beginning to the fringe is tailing off yet.

I’ll keep you updated as more info comes in.

Friday 11th June, 4.30 p.m.:

And here I am. No need to start off with some first-sight impressions because Brighton Fringe looks pretty much the same as it was when I left it, except that it’s somewhat cooler.

So instead, I wrote this piece about my reaction to Aware, three films done as the first in-person performance (albiet films) at the newly-reopened Alphabetti Theatre back home. At some point, I will round up the situation with theatre re-opening in the north-east, but Alphabetti seems to have gone from the most cautious to the most bullish. However, on this ocasion I am not here to commentate on re-opening plans or review something. I’m here to give my thoughts on the issue of neurodiversity that these films strive to cover. In sumary, I thought what it chose to cover, it covered well, but so far neither Alphabetti nor the other north-east theatres have made any real progress addressing the issue of inclusion. If you want me to expand on that, come this way.

However, whilst we’re on this subject, now is a good time to mention the first of two Lava Elastic shows. This is a variety show which is well outside my area of remit for reviews, but I promote this because Sarah Saeed who runs this actually is doing domething about inclusion. She understands what the barriers are, does something about it, and her other company, Stealth Aspies (not running this fringe but will hopefully be back soon) covers the issues that too many people don’t realise matter. Lava Ealstic isn’t there to educate you, though, it there to have a good time. First showing this Sunday at 2.30, Sweet Werks, and another in two weeks, same place, same time.

Friday 11th June, 11.00 a.m:

Okay, here I come again. Brighton Fringe part two, come about as it seems increasingly unlikely we’re going to have an Edinburgh Fringe part one. But let’s forget about that for a while.

Everyone who requested an in-person review between now and Monday: you should have heard from me by now. If not, please get in touch ASAP so I can sort this out.

Excuse me, the newly-build Werrington underpass is coming up. That’s proper exciting.

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What’s worth watching: Brighton Fringe 2021

Groups sitting outside the Pavillion
Credit: Dumphasizer

Skip to: Badass Be Thy Name, About the Garden, Skank, The Tragedy of Dorian Grey, Jekyll & Hyde: A one-woman show, Rebel Boob, Clean, Spirit of Woodstock, The Ugly Ducking, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Fern Hill and other Dylan Thomas, Dapha Baram, Notflix, Geoff Mead’s tours

Well then. Who’d have guessed it?

This time last year, I idly speculated 2020 might work in Brighton Fringe’s favour. With Edinburgh Fringe cancelled and Brighton only postponed, an autumn fringe that picked up Edinburgh refugees might have done well. In the end, Coronavirus was just too stubbornly persistent for any fringe to be considered a winner – in fact, we now know the financial situation at Brighton was so dire it was a miracle an October Fringe went ahead at all. As it was, it about a tenth of the normal size, with attention rapidly shifting towards a proper relaunch in 2021 for both Brighton and Edinburgh. Then along came the accursed Kent variant, and Brighton announced a delay of three weeks. Would that be enough?

But in the last couple of months, there has been a dramatic turnaround in fortunes. In the end, Brighton has managed a fringe about half the size of 2019. There are some caveats to this number which I’ll cover shortly, but the news that nobody predicted comes north of the border. The Scottish government is insisting on two-metre social distancing, which as it stands will extend into August, much to the protest of Scottish theatres. It is difficult for a conventional theatre to work that way, but for a fringe theatre it’s next to impossible. As a result, so far all of the major venues have held off announcing anything. At the time of writing, news is emerging for the first fringe registrations, making use of some of Edinburgh’s biggest buildings and outdoor spaces, but that’s tiny compared to what the Big Four normally do.

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Enough is enough. The arts industry must stop pretending self-policing works.

COMMENT: It is no longer acceptable for arts organisations to behave behave like abuse going on elsewhere isn’t their problem. If the arts industry does not take collective responsibility for its failures over safeguarding, it is complicit.

It was dispiriting enough writing about the alleged (and now pretty much proven) abuse at Tyneside Cinema, but I really didn’t expect another three scandals to follow. There came the abusive vice-principal at Ballet West that resulted in the closure of the Ballet school. Then just over a month ago it was back to the north-east with the region’s biggest and most powerful music promoter – and now, of course, it’s Noel Clarke. I will say up-front that in the latter two cases the allegations are still just allegations, Noel Clarke and SSD’s Steve Davis deny the allegations made against them personally, and we’ll need to wait for the investigations to finish before making a final conclusion. But I’m done with commentating on individual cases. It’s the sheer numbers I’m now concerned about. It now seems that every time we deal with one scandal and try to move on, another one takes its place. Four in twelve months, plus who knows how many regional scandals are happening outside the north-east.

I’m tired of scandal after after scandal after scandal being put down to a few bad apples. Something is going very badly wrong in the arts industry – but for years the arts industry seems to have been in a collective state of denial. One thing that all of these four scandals have in common:it was not the arts industry that brought thing to light; two broke through social media, and the other two came through investigative journalism. And yet – with a few honourable exceptions – everybody who’s anybody in the arts has historically behaved like it was always the responsibility of other people over there, and nothing to do with them, nothing needs to change. Enough is enough. This isn’t good enough any more.

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