Winter fringe 2021-2022 roundup

Skip to: 10 things to do in a small Cumbrian town, The Invisible Man

This was supposed to be a longer article, but partly down to cancellations, this has ended up a bit thin on the ground. But in line with my new year’s resolution to not let backlogs build up too much, I’m going to catch up on a couple of things now.

10 things to do in a small Cumbrian town

Apologies for the lateness with this one. I had intended to do this in a roundup of all the other things on over December, but Omicron had other ideas. As you may recall, however, I was still taken in enough to name this most promising debut of 2021. Now let’s catch up with a proper review.

s8ozkzpkfaftxnjfvqk1To be honest, I only ended up seeing this by chance. The advertised premise went in two directions: firstly, central character Jodie (played by writer Hannah Sowerby) is coming to think she’s more women than men, but with Penrith being a small Cumbrian town there’s a shortage of women inclined that way – specifically, the mum of one of her school friends. The other premise hinted to is how dull life is in the country. I will admit it was the second strand that got me a bit nervous. I’ve noticed a pattern lately of the theatre community – mostly congregated around the bigger cities – get a bit too keen on plays that look down on people who live in smaller towns. Would this be another hour of the theatrical class exchanging knowing laughter about the country folk and their backward views?

Actually, this play isn’t really about life in Penrith that much. Nor is it about growing bisexual. Both of these things are relevant to the central theme of the story, but only indirectly. No, what this play is really about is living with long-term depression. There are fundamentally two weights on Jodie’s mind. The first is that she is nineteen, and all of her friends from school have gone on to university or gap years and have all of these amazing experiences, which she’s still at home not doing much at all. The second problem is also the cause of the first problem – that is not revealed to the end so I’ll refrain from a spoiler, but the fact she lives with her gran (and does not appear to have much contact with her mother other than the occasional sporadic Christmas and birthday card) should give a clue as to what it is.

Continue reading

A curated fringe won’t be a kinder fringe

COMMENT: An unwelcome part of open access is people spending too much money on Edinburgh Fringe who clearly aren’t ready – but it’s not open access you should be blaming for that.

With Edinburgh Fringe 2021 having pulled back from the brink, most are now expecting 2022 onwards to be the road to recovery. Few people, however, are enthusiastic about a return to 2019 levels. For years, Edinburgh Fringe has had a big problem of supply and demand. More and more people want to take part, but Edinburgh isn’t that big a city, and there’s only a finite amount of accommodation and finite number of buildings that can be made into theatre spaces. Consequently, the cost of these two things is going up and up and up; and no, the money isn’t being squirrelled away by greedy venue managers, but simply a product of landlords – in many cases Edinburgh University – simply renting out space for whatever people are prepared to pay.

As a result, there’s been a lot of talk of building back a “kinder” fringe. There are several things that might address the supply and demand problem without undermining open access (one of which I’m come on to later). Unfortunately, perhaps inevitably in the current climate of culture wars, a movement seems to be emerging that would rather undermine open access. I won’t link any particular story as this is a trend rather than specific people, but they do seem be edging towards the easy solution: let’s just not allow people who aren’t us to take part. At the moment the language used is that the principle of open access is “outdated” and maintains the “status quo” (whatever that means), but I think I can see where this is going.

Now, as most of you should be aware, I am a staunch supporter of open access. Not all arts festivals or venues need to be open access – indeed, it would be impossible for many of them to work that way – but it is vital that such festivals exist for those who wish to go that route. Why? Because there is way too much gatekeeping in theatre, and across the arts in general. Too many venues have exact ideas of what art people should be making and watching. That wouldn’t be so bad if every venue had their own tastes, but increasingly they’re all after the same thing, and if you’re not to the liking of one you’re not to the liking of any. Open festivals are a crucial check in the balance of power – if you’ve got something good to show an audience, and the audience likes it, no-one can stop you. I have to say, the loudest voices undermining open access seem to be the people who benefit the most from the current culture of gatekeeping. Perhaps they assume they’ll be amongst the approved line-up of a vetted fringe. I suspect it’s more likely they’ll get a nasty surprise, when the big venues pick big comedians and other commercially lucrative acts over them. But I have no intention of letting it get to that stage.

Continue reading

Odds and sods: January 2022

Sorry this is late. I do have an excuse for this – the first week of February was solid for me.

Anyway, let’s catch up on what happened since November Odds and Sods.

Stuff that happened in December and January

So this big news from January was the cancellation of Vault Festival 2022. Ouch. Perhaps a bit over-optimistic to commit to this, but precedent shows that cancelling a festival this close to the launch is really bad news financially. I wrote extensively about how this happened and what this might mean. However, we start to roundup of smaller news with a side-effect of this closer to home.

Vault festival cancelled, Laurels steps in

f71722_57a65ccbc5654c7bb79054862d048a2amv2In the short term, the cancellation of the Vault festival leads to an issue over what happens to all the groups who were counting on their Vault slot as their big break. This might not be a big deal for, say, a comedian who had a Vault appearance as one date on a bigger tour, but it’s a huge blow if you were giving it all for a run at the Vault and nothing else. Well, The Laurels have made an unprecedented offer: accommodation and 100% box office income for shows wishing to transfer. And for those of you outside the north-east who have not caught up with this: The Laurels is the new project of Jamie Eastlake, who use to run Theatre N16 in London.

As far as I can tell, this is not a free-for-all: it’s an invitation to pitch. The pitch deadline has only just passed, so we’ll need to wait a little longer to see what we get. It may be difficult to separate who comes forwards from who gets chosen, but this may be or first clue of what sort of work The Laurels wants. Jamie Eastlake should be in a good position to organise this, having presumably had a lot of experience of London fringe theatre from N16 days. Keep your eyes peeled, because this could be very influential. It might be London’s loss is Whitley Bay’s gain.

Continue reading