Roundup: Vault Festival 2023

REVIEWS: Skip to: Hutchy the Hare, Con-Version, Not Your Grandma’s Folk Tales, The Messiah Complex, Villain Interrupted, Sobriety on the Rocks, Vermin

The Vault Festival deserves a break. They were the first to be hit by Coronavirus and the last to come out of it. But one curtailed festival, one planned cancellation, and one disastrously unplanned cancellation better, Vault Festival has bounced back in 2023 with a full-run festival operating like nothing has happened. So what do they get in return? Their landlord has turned on them. The people who they rent their space from will not be letting the space to them again. No sooner are they out of one existential crisis they stumble into another.

I was planning to open my roundup with my observations of how Vault 2023 was operating in general, to see how this bodes for the future. For example, I thought the Festival Pass was insanely good value for money and I was surprised there wasn’t more uptake. However, that is now just tinkering around the edges, and instead we’re facing more fundamental questions of where the Vault Festival will run next year, and it they run at all.

As such, I’m going to go straight into the reviews, and also give my thoughts on another (unrelated) controversy. Then I will look at what options I can see for Vault 2024 and beyond. But first thing’s first …

The reviews:

Right then. Been quite a long time since I’ve done some Vault Festival reviews. As I only tend to do flying visits of Vault, I only have a few reviews to post so I don’t separate them into Pick of the Fringe and so on, like I do for the fringes. With Edinburgh and Brighton, I’m moving towards reviewing pretty much everything; with Vault, however, I’m only reviews things I enjoyed or saw potential to. If I hated something, I’m quiet. (Usual caveat applies: if you want to know what I really thought of something, my preferred currency for a bribe is beer.)

Hutchy the Hare

This can best be compared to the cult series Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared, itself best compared to Sesame Street, if they let Stephen King write the script and David Lynch direct it.

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Spring 2023 fringe roundup

Skip to: Tiny Fragments, Howerd’s End, Juggling, Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me

Before I get into the thick of festival fringe coverage, here’s a roundup of four local fringe-scale plays I saw, with the consistent pleasing standard.

Tiny Fragments of Beautiful Light

Usual caveat applies for reviews about anything involving neurodiversity: these reviews are the most likely to be skewed by personal perspective. I loved Glitch, but I was upfront about the specific prejudices that resonated with me so much. Most of you who want to know my views on this already do – if not, you are welcome to come this way for some background reading. (And sadly, no, I haven’t seen any progress away from the grand gesture culture in the last two years.)

tfobl-victoria-wai-photography-4Alphabetti Theatre programming is dominated by representation of various minorities, but the worst mistake you can make is to assume everybody within a minority thinks the same and has the same experiences. It was great that Alphabetti took on Aware as one of its first projects coming out of lockdown, but that couldn’t cover everything; and the last thing I would have wanted is endless follow-ups that portray autistic people as nothing other than people who need constant care and/or care about casting Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. So I’m glad that the next play on the issue, Tiny Fragments of Beautiful Light, takes on what is, in my opinion, the more important issue to be talking about.

Alli Davies’s story follows Elsa, whose experience is one of many people. She is perfectly capable of living an independent life; and sure, she has a host of eccentricities and specialised interests, but none of this should be a barrier just so long as the rest of society doesn’t made stupid snap judgements over things that don’t matter. Unfortunately, society does. The story follows Elsa’s life from childhood to marriage, and early on in childhood she all too often falls foul of other bully kids getting away with it because the teachers made stupid snaps judgement of character against Elsa. The key message of the play is that so much could have been understood so much earlier if only a diagnosis could have been made earlier. Autism diagnosis is still in infancy, and one particular problem is that for some time it was perceived to affect mostly men, symptoms were designed around that, and it turned into a bit of a self-fulling prophecy. But even without this, so much would have been avoidable without stupid judgements.

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Odds and sods: March 2023

It’s April, it’s getting on a bit, but at least it’s not late as last time. here’s my round-up of minor news stories from March.

Stuff that happened in March:

The big news from March was the mysterious closure of The Exchange, which North Tyneside Council insists isn’t a closure. I’ve given my full thoughts here, as this was covered at length during the launch of The Laurels’ new season. The short version is that The Exchange is it currently exists is coming to an end this month, as their lease has run out at it’s going to “Stonebanks investments”. North Tynesde Council, however, claims the Exchange isn’t closing, this scheme is part of a “cultural quarter”, and the new leaseholder is going to create something bigger and better.

Have to say, I am sceptical over North Tyneside’s version of events. One would have thought that a cultural scheme of this magnitude would have been planned and trailed months in advance, rather than left to the last moment. It also seems unusual that a property developer with no previous record of cultural activities is suddenly interested in being a part of the cultural scene. At best, this has been handled badly; at worst, The Exchange as a theatre is being set up to fail. I will keep a close eye on this.

Apart from that bis news, here’s what else has been happening.

Live Theatre playwriting competition

Since my last Odds and Sods was a proper gloom-fest, let’s open this one with something positive. Jack McNamara is still making his mark as Live Theatre’s new artistic director, and one of the new things that has come in is a playwriting competition. As many of you will know, my enthusiasm for opportunities through script submissions are limited; I’ve written a long piece about my issues with playwriting competitions and how to handle it (TLDR: if you can, produce your writing yourself rather than wait for a thumbs up that will probably never come). However, if you are going to do a playwriting competition, this one, I believe, is the way should should do it.

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The launch of The Laurels’ 2023 season

Skip to The Exchange.

A month ago I was invited to the press launch of Live Theatre’s season. Now it’s the turn of The Laurels in Whitley Bay.

Out of all the venues in the north-east, there can be little doubt that The Laurels was the big winner of 2022. This is thanks in a large part to the success of Gerry and Sewell. Plays that have references to local football teams have a track record of selling well, and Jonathan Tulloch’s book The Season Ticket is an excellent story in its own right, but I don’t think even Jamie and Steve predicted just how successful this was going to be. I’ve spoken very highly of this play before (indeed it won 2022’s Best North-East Fringe Production and Best Individual Performance from me), but at the end of the day, it’s not what I or any other reviewer thinks that counts, but mass appeal to an audience. A sold out run and a hastily-programme encore run is as good as you get.

And, of course, they’ve now secured a run at Live Theatre. Before we get carried away, we should remember that no theatre succeeds in the long-run as a one-hit wonder. The worst mistake the Laurels could make right now would be – fittingly enough – to rest on their laurels. What it does mean in that they’re going into 2023 on a position of strength.

There were quite a lot of things covered in the launch. As usual, I’m not going to do a comprehensive write-up here – I’ll leave it to other publications to do that – and instead concentrate on things that got my attention.

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