Odds and sods: October 2021

So, it’s back to business, and for old time’s, sake, I’m going back to my monthly odds and sods updates being late. I would have got it out on time, but a certain shitstorm blew up that I had to write about first. But now that this is out of the way (for a moment), let’s catch up with what else has been happening.

Stuff that happened in October:

So the big thing that happened – not quite theatre news but still very relevant to north-east culture – was SSD Concerts. Previously making a name for themselves back in April by allegedly going round groping everybody, after the MD implicated in this resigned, we thought we’d heard the last of the MD, or SSD Concerts, or groping, or all three. Nope. It now looks like they thought they could lie low a few months and then just carry on like nothing had happened. The good news is they thought wrongly, and didn’t get away with it.

However, the less prominent news stories, involving people who – as far as I’m aware – don’t behave like sex cases, are:

Durham 2025

cropped-d2025-bid-logoThe excitement at the start of this month was the news that Durham has made it through to the longlist of City of Culture 2025. One important point is that it is Durham County that is bidding for this rather than just the city. This makes use of a rule change that this time round, regions can bid for the title – it need not be a specific urban area. This suits the bid, because ever since Durham County Council became a unitary authority, they’ve been promoting the culture of the county as a unit. Events such as Kynren and attractions such as Beamish are routinely alongside events and attractions in Durham city itself.

There is another reason why this change suits Durham city. It is an open secret that the real purpose of City of Culture is to give a shot into the arm to areas with some level of deprivation that could do with a shot in the arm. If it was measured on cultural activity alone, cities such as London or Edinburgh would smoke the competition. But London and Edinburgh are economic powerhouses with more than each cash going spare to look after themselves. Durham County does have issues with social deprivation and cultural disengagement that could be improved; Durham City, not so much. But Durham City would certainly benefit from a successful bid.

If there is a weak point to Durham County’s case, it’s nurturing local talent. Durham County Council makes a big thing about bringing in nationally- and internationally-acclaimed talent to its festivals, but there is little in place to support local talent compared to Newcastle. I can only speak from my theatre observations here, but Durham has a bad habit of importing talent from Newcastle and calling that “local”, with little consideration given to the talent they already have in the county. Totally biased here, but my advice would be to throw its weight behind Durham Fringe, which I think is currently the county’s best avenue of talent development. The winner is going to be announced in “spring 2022”, with presumably a shortlist decided on before then. A longlist is newsworthy, but if they make it to the shortlist expect things to really get in motion.

Lumiere is on

Although there were never any public signs of wobbles over Lumiere 2021, there must have been some nerves – two major events in the summer, Brass and the Miners’ Gala, were cancelled over Cornavirus uncertainties. The thing we’ve been learning over the last year and a bit is that yes or no decisions tend to be made when the time comes to commit the money; it’s a lot more painful pulling the plug if you don’t get your money back. But the programme has been announced, the tickets have been issues, and the cash is presumably committed, and we’re on. There are a few of things Lumiere has been able to do to play it safe.

Firstly – and this timing ties in rather conveniently with the city of culture bid – there are installations all over the county rather than just Durham City. Durham itself gets about 75% of the installations, but there are things dotted about over some of the the county’s most beloved and beautiful landmarks. And the Apollo Pavilion Peterlee. But before any hard-core Lumiere fans try, there is a huge spread over a large county, and it looks impossible to take in everything over four days. Anyone who wishes to prove me wrong, be my guest. And good luck.

The other change, and the slightly more annoying one: the entire duration of the festival is now ticketed. Previously, you could wait until 7.30 for the gate to open, after the families had mostly finished for the evening, but not this time. To be fair, I’ve seen what the crowding was like in a normal year and that really wouldn’t have been a good idea this time. The tickets are now virtually gone, but you may still be able to see installations on Wednesday when they usually do the testing. Or you could stick around as 10 or so and hope they open the gates when enough people have gone. However, I make no promises about either of those, and you can try that at your own risk. Alternatively, about three quarters of the festival is outside the ticketed Penninsula and you can just enjoy that instead.

I will have a better look at the programme later and come up with some picks for a preview, but that’s the score for now.

Brighton Fringe back to May

Now it’s away from Durham and back to the fringe circuit. So, as you may recall, as the earliest fringe, Brighton had to make a lot of changes to be able to run at all. Towards the end of the fringe, a discussion started on these changes, because it turned out some of the changes made out of necessity were in fact liked by a lot of people. And the big one was pushing the fringe back three weeks to mostly run over June. Reasons given in favour of sticking with June were warmer weather, better availability for student productions, and less congestion with the Festival and Great Escape being on at the same time.

But after all that excitement – it’s no change. Brighton Fringe has reverted to a festival mostly in May. It is not clear what swayed this after so much support for June, but it was said at the registration launch that the decision was made after “extensive consultation”. I don’t know who wanted the status quo or what the reasons were, but as soon as I find out I will let you know.

However, there are some changes coming to Brighton Fringe 2022. The most interesting change is the “super early bird” rate for anyone who registers by the 26th November. It’ll be interesting to see how that one plays out, because there’s really no precedent there. One of the less popular moves was scrapping the paper programme, with web navigation proving troublesome for many – however, instead of going back to the old paper programme, they will be producing paper Daily Guides, listing what’s on at what time each day.

And the final notable bit of news from the registration launch is that the Rotunda is setting up in Brighton – and yes, that’s the same Rotunda from Buxton Fringe. So, for the first time, we will have a venue active in both Brighton and Buxton Fringes. So far, Brighton and Buxton have had little crossover – will this change things?

Final Girl

Final Girl poster looking like Scream.And we’ll close this with an occasional feature in odds and sods. Every now and then I give early news of productions in development that grab my interest. This one comes from Heather-Rose Andrews, who has performed a lot of popular solo plays at Brighton Fringe, but until last year her biggest hits (Metamorphosis and One-Woman Alien) were written by others. This changed with One-Woman Jekyll and Hyde which according my my calculations is her best acclaimed play to date. This went to Buxton Fringe where the feedback was a bit more mixed, but everyone remained unanimous in praise for her performance. (My review is coming, please be patient, but in the meantime count me on the performance.)

I heard about plans for her next project a few months ago, but now it’s confirmed: Final Girl. She’s a big horror fan, and as you have probably noticed, the common theme of the bump-them-off-one-at-a-time story is a showdown between the claw/machete/axe/etc-wielding maniac and the one person he hasn’t killed yet. (Criteria for final girl varies to film, but it’s never the hedonistic hussy who had sex in the forty-second minute and died in the forty-sixth minute.) In this story are the Final Girls from four classic horrors put together.

Ah, but what happens when you put four final girls in the same slasher flick that only has room for one final girl? Do we discover who is the final final girl? Or does the universe short-circuit and explode. Something to find out next year, I guess.

Things I wrote in October

Yes, I know. I’ve had two plays to keep me busy this month, and I’m having a catch-up. But here’s what else I wrote for you:

Odds and sods – most of 2020 and 2021: A catch-up of all the local news over the Coronavirus shutdown that wasn’t Coronavirus. Yes, really, there was other stuff going on.

Roundup – Brighton Fringe 2021: The first of my three fringe roundups I need to catch up on. Buxton next, with some previously unreviewed plays.

The unwelcome return of SSD Concerts: Published in November but I started on it in October, having to do loads of fact checking. Thanks a lot to Steve Davis for giving me extra work to do.

And that wraps up October. Join me next month when I wrap up November, with hopefully fewer scandals keeping me busy.

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