What’s worth watching: winter/spring 2022

Skip to: Drag me to Love, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Invisible Man, Sorry You’re Not a Winner, The Bone Sparrow, Howerd’s End, The Indecent Musings of Miss Doncaster 2007, Gerry and Sewell, Red Ellen, Haddock and Chips, Sunderland Open House, Laurels Vault transfer, Everything I Didn’t Say

Before we begin this list, a small housekeeping notice. Normally I time this post for late January because not a lot happens in January, but by the end of the month most theatres have their seasons announced up to May or further. However, for some reason, Live Theatre has not announced anything beyond February. Not sure what’s going on there – at one point it would have made sense to be cautious, but I think we be be reasonably confident we’re not going to have runaway Omicron now. All I can think is that the new artistic director is putting together programme at relatively short notice and has to leave things to the last minute.

If Live Theatre announces anything March or beyond, I may add it into the article. But in the meantime, here’s what caught my eye.

Safe choice:

Are we refreshed with the rules now? Safe choices are for plays where I’m confident that if this sound like the sort of play for you, you’ll like it for real. The usual reason (which applies to the entire list this time) is that I’ve seen the play before. The other rule for safe choice is that it needs wide audience appeal. If you want to be sure of a good night out, I can recommend any one of these.

Drag me to Love

drag20me20to20love20220webWe start with a revival of an old surprise hit. Bonnie and the Bonnettes is a drag cabaret act who host a variety of LGBT-friendly cabaret nights, but it was their original performance that shot them to prominence. Drag Me to Love is the autobiographical story of Cameron, reminiscing of the time he moonlighted as a drag artists in Doncaster. You might think this is a niche interest but it had a wide appeal. Some bits of the performance are hilarious, including the performance of Total Eclipse of the Heart, but there is also a poignant ending about leaving a world behind and rediscovering it years later.

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Beauty and the Beast: back to the beginning

More ambitious than previous New Vic Christmas productions, Beauty and the Beast isn’t quite accessible to children as the others, but does a good job for the mostly adult audience it attracted instead.

The first thing I have to congratulate the New Vic for is making it through the Christmas season in one piece. I hardly need remind you of what a nightmare it’s been a second year running. Their sister theatre the Stephen Joseph, having bucked the trend last year so well, ended up cancelling half its run. From my end of the woods, only two of the five Christmas productions made it through the full run. And yet somehow, the New Vic has made it unscathed. That alone will be welcome news: the New Vic Christmas production is one of the most lucrative ones around, running well into January to cater for the school parties from miles around queuing up for tickets. This is not the first time they’ve impressed me with their resilience: when I saw The Wind in the Willows three years ago, I saw surprised to discover Mr. Toad dropped out sick, a minor character stepped in at short notice, and the rest of the cast covered his parts – and made it look like that’s how they planned to do it all along. This time round, maybe it was just luck. But well done anyway – I don’t know how how did it, but you made it.

But I digress. There are no finishers medals her, we must look at the play itself. This production, postponed from 2020 (with its small-scale replacement Coppelia itself postponed seven months), is Theresa Heskins’ take on a fairy story, but unlike a certain very popular touring show going on right now, this one goes to great lengths to avoid the Disneyfication. The 1990s film, classic though it is, took major liberties with the original plot – which is fine, but in all of the subsequent stage shows and live-action remakes Disney has an irritating habit of behaving like their animated films are the originals rather than take a second look at the source material. Heskins, on the other hand, brings back long-forgotten parts of the original book. Rather than being transformed into a Beast for refusing shelter to an old woman (which I always thought was a bit of an over-reaction), his predicament comes about from the Goblin wars in revenge for his warmongering warrior-Queen mother, which is a more understandable. And so the stage play begins with the little-known tale of the Goblins spinning their tales of mischief – mischief that unfortunately escalates rather quickly.

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Rod Liddle doesn’t understand freedom of speech

COMMENT: Controversial speakers have free speech to express their views, but the people you’re talking to have free speech to make it clear what they think. Especially a speaker who thinks he’s entitled to talk down to people who never asked for him.

And now, a rare post on this blog: a post about neither theatre nor anything else in the arts. The reason I’m doing this is that, as well as christontheatre being a theatre blog, it is also an anti-censorship blog. Normally, I am anti-censorship in the name of artistic freedom, but I am also pro freedom of speech in general. Until, now, however, everything I have written has been in support of people on the receiving end of censorship. This time, however, I am going to be singling out someone who thinks his right to free speech is being infringed when it isn’t. There are a lot of people like him, they give free speech a bad name, and it is in the interests of anyone who values free speech to stand up to this bullshit.

The reason I’m taking action over this one is because I’m doing something I’ve criticised other people for not doing: speaking out when things you say you care about happen on your doorstep. This relates to a shitstorm going on at my old university which I still have connections to. Tim Luckhurst, the principal of South College (the newest college of Durham University), invited a speaker for the end-of term Christmas formal dinner. Normally a non-issue, interesting and entertaining speakers (along boring, unfunny and incomprehensible speakers) come to dinners all the time. However, this speaker was Rod Liddle, who made exactly the kind of speech you’d expect Rod Liddle to make. Contrary to what some people think, the students of Durham University are not a bunch of ultra-right-wing Katie Hopkins worshippers and this speech went down like a lead balloon. This has escalated into widespread calls for Luckhurst to be sacked.

I will give my 2p’s worth on that row later, but what I’m really interested in is Rod Liddle’s reaction to this. He is demanding an apology from Durham University and implying that his right to free speech has been infringed. Now, there are some valid criticisms to be made of the anti-Liddle protests, but that does not stop Rod Liddle being wrong. For the reasons I will go into, Rod Liddle has not had his free speech infringed – and, if anything, he is the one who lacks respect for free speech. Here’s why.

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Vault Festival 2022 cancelled, Vault Festival 2023 in the balance?

With 2021 written off as “2020, the sequel” in theatre, hope were pinned on a better 2022. The last thing anyone wanted was “2020 part 3: the nightmare continues”. Now, we’re barely into the new year, and we’ve got a dose of the latter. With only three weeks before its launch, Vault 2022 has been cancelled in its entirety. Worse, this was supposed to be the big relaunch. Whilst Brighton Fringe 2020 and Edinburgh Fringe 2021 were happy to downplay expectations and carry on with the few acts who still wanted to take part, Vault chose to cancel its 2021 festival back in July 2020 with the intention of a full-scale relaunch for its 10th anniversary year.

The worst news of all, however, is the timing of this. It’s one thing to cancel a big annual event before you’ve even started, but quite another to pull the plug at the last moment. For one thing, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of acts seeing the Vault Festival as the big break only to have it taken away from them at the last moment. That must be gutting. The bigger issue, however, is what happens to the Vault Festival itself. As Stephen Walker observed with relation to Buxton Fringe, most decisions to go ahead or cancel come when a decision has to be made on the money. It’s hard to imagine the Vault Festival could have got this close to a start date without a significant financial investment. Unless they have some very good insurance, that’s not coming back. And, unfortunately, the precedents we have to go on is not good.

But first of all, a look of how we got here.

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