We need to talk about Roald Dahl and sensitivity readers

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look levely.

COMMENT: The outrage over the changes to the Roald Dahl books has been blown out of proportion. But it does raise some uncomfortable questions of corporate ownership of work, moral double standards, and the power to censor.

Thanks a lot mate. Here I am trying to catch up with the various shit-shows hitting the arts and now what happens? Everybody’s up in arms about Roald Dahl’s books being given the sensitivity reader treatment. And since one of the principal tenets of this blogs is being anti-censorship and pro-artistic freedom, I need to weigh into this, as this is a censorship issue.

Like many censorship debates, a lot of the commentary is misleading. Depending on who you talk to, it’s either a full rewrite of beloved classic works to appease the wokie feminazis, or a long-overdue reform to make the works relevant to a modern audience. Al is usually the case, the truth somewhere in between – and a lot more boring. What it has done, however, is lift a lid on just how much power publishers have. They might not have done anything particularly dramatic, but they could go a lot further if they wanted. And there don’t seem to be any checks or balances.

None of what I’m saying is intended to be a dig as Roald Dahl’s literary estate. I don’t know who’s responsible for the thumbs up or thumbs down, but to date they seem to have a pretty relaxed attitude to adaptations of the books. They have ranged from very faithful depictions to major retellings, and the various visions on screen and stage have ranged from excellent to abominable to just weird. That’s okay: the great ones live on in memory, the terrible ones are forgotten, and nobody is ever put off the books. This, however, is complicated by rights recently being acquired by Netflix. It’s not clear if Netflix has any powers or influence that they didn’t have previously, but it would explain a few things if they have. I will return to this later.

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Odds and sods: January 2023

Yes, I know, it’s nearly March. The excuse I had is that for the last three weeks I was working solidly on two consecutive plays. I did think about rolling everything over to next month, but on reflection, I’ve decided to stick with a January catchup. Many of the events that started rearing their head in January have gone on to escalate into February. Those I won’t cover here, but I’ll have a lot more to say about them in February.

Stuff that happened in January

So the one thing I won’t be going over here is the business in Oldham Colosseum. Towards the end of January there were signs things might be coming to a head – now, the situation is much much more serious. As a result, I won’t be covering this here, as the small bit in information I had at the time is already wildly out of date. There were also the first signs of grumbling of accommodation for Edinburgh Fringe 2023, but again, things are moving quickly. I’ll cover those in next month’s odds and sods, where there will be a lot to talk about.

Apart from that, there’s only a couple of things left to mention:

Brighton Fringe venues

So the big news coming to a head in January is that it’s all change with the venues yet again. With no word from The Warren going into the New Year, everybody was increasingly working to the assumption that they wouldn’t be coming back to Brighton Fringe 2023, and then, on the 31st January, it was confirmed they’re not coming back ever. Otherplace Productions Ltd has gone into liquidation. I haven’t forgotten my promise to write about this and I will be doing so shortly (it’s easier to avoid writing damaging material about a venue when they’re already kaput). In the meantime, however, The Warren-shaped hole that Brighton Fringe needs to fill has become permanent.

But … we might have just the thing to step into the breach. On the Warren’s original site north of St. Peter’s Church, we have a complete newcomer to Brighton Fringe. Step forward Caravanserai. This, I gather, is something that until now has functioned as a pop-up area of music festival camp Bestival, and as far as I can tell, they will probably look similar to how The Warren did (just hopefully without the financial fuck-ups). What I don’t quite get is how they are planning to programme this at relatively short notice, but maybe they’ve got pre-existing contacts from Camp Bestival who are going to be coming on over. Whatever the plan, The Warren might be gone for good, but the kind up venue that The Warren pioneered in Brighton looks set to stay.

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What’s worth watching: winter/spring 2023

Skip to: Sherlock Holmes: the valley of fear; Morgan and West, Gulliver, Run, Rebel, Person Spec, Howerd’s End, Juggling, Tomatoes tried to kill me, Love it when we beat them, Vermin

It’s a late list of recommendations this time, which is partly because I’ve had a busy January but also also that the things that catch my eye and a bit end-loaded. Some of the things coming that I rate won’t be happing until May or later, and will go into the next list. This means that what I have left over is a shorter list than usual.

Safe choice:

My top tier is for plays where I think you can’t go wrong. Not everything is to everyone’s tastes, but if what I describe sounds like your sort of thing, I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.

With much of the interesting stuff happening late in the year though, and few plays that I recognise, this is going to be a short list.

Sherlock Holmes: the valley of fear

besherlock_vof_productioncredit-alexharvey-brown-09566-1024x683-1It’s rare for me to put plays I haven’t seen into safe choice, but if you want to be certain of a good night of theatre, this is about as safe a bet as can be. I have seen many Blackeyed Theatre productions with several different writers and directors, and there hasn’t been a single weak link amongst them. They are also one of only three theatre companies (the other two being Sparkle and Dark and Pilot Theatre) to have scooped an Ike Award, my equivalent to five stars, twice.

Whilst I haven’t seen this particular play, Nick Lane has previously adapted another Sherlock Holmes Story, The Sign of Four, which was done to a high standard, Holmes and Watson from that last play are reprised in this performance. The faults and prejudices of Victorian society were covered in the last play but didn’t stray into moralising for the sake of it. And Victoria Spearing, whose set design has been pretty much the defining feature of all Blackeyed productions, is in action once again. The bad news is that Blackeyed Theatre tour nationally and their north-east visits are a bit thin on the ground. In fact, the only stop is Middlesbrough Theatre on 10th & 11th February. There also later dates at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on the 18th – 20th May. Both of which clash with other commitments from me. Damn. Visit the north east more goddamnit.

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