Run, Rebel: runaway hit

Pilot Theatre have a track record of strength in so many areas. Their collaboration with Manjeet Mann in the latest of their young adult adaptations has once more pushed their achievements to perfection.

In all of my theatre blog coverage, few groups have had such a long and consistently good run as Pilot Theatre. My equivalent to five stars is the Ike Award, which I first gave for an adaptation of The Season Ticket (co-produced with Northern Stage). The second one went to Noughts and Crosses, and that was the first in a series of adaptations of young adult novels that has been doing well. We are now on the the fourth. Run, Rebel is a book by Manjeet Mann. It is about Amber Rai, who dreams of being a runner, but her conservative father thinks it time she was married off. It is Mann herself who has adapted the play – and what do you know, Pilot Theatre has done it yet again. For the first time ever, a theatre company has scooped a third one of these:

There are two things I’ve noted Pilot Theatre for: firstly, their innovative approach to staging, and secondly, their ethos for super-diverse casting which, in my opinion, gets it right. Now I’ve noticed a third thing they’re good at: openings. You can read so much into the characters before they’ve spoken a single word. In The Bone Sparrow, for instance, we saw from Jimmie’s first brief appearance she’s lonely and a misfit. Here (thanks to director Tessa Walker), the first glance shows us the family dynamics of the Rai family, with Amber’s headstrong optimism contrasted by her meeker and passive mother Surinder. Amber only has to say about her sister Ruby “She doesn’t live with us any more” to know there’s a lot more to this. As for her father Harbans, we know there’s going to a problem here – but it doesn’t exactly scream “snarling wife-beater” to you. We will learn more about this later.

However, blink and you’ll miss it. The next few scenes depicts life at school that is … perfectly normal. There are two things that currently concern teenage Amber. The first is whether she should listen to her PE teacher who thinks she’s got what it takes to become a professional runner. The second is whether the boy she likes feels the same way about her – but David and his family spent most of the summer with Tara and her family, Tara being her other best friend. As far as they’re all concerned, the only thing out of the ordinary is that she has a dad who’s “a bit strict”. But this is no ordinary tale of a teenage girl trying to persuade her dad to let her stay out later. Harbans is saying people will talk if she’s not married soon. And – more frighteningly, he reminds Amber of the girl over the road who came to a bad end because she brought shame on her family.

Continue reading

Odds and sods: February 2023

A late one again – apologies, but with Live Theatre’s press event being on invitation, I had to get that out of the way first.

Right, what happened in February?

Stuff that happened in February

Well, what do you know. I went through listing notable events that need raising, guess what? It’s one of the most depressing odds and sods I’ve seen. Here we are:

No end in sight for Edinburgh’s accommodation crisis

This news isn’t so much specific to February, but February is arguably the month when things started to come to a head.

Edinburgh Fringe has been criticised for pricing performers out for decades, but until this decade it was the venues coming under fire for their costs. This changed last year, not because the venue were getting any cheaper, but because accommodation costs were spiralling out of control. Without being able to mind-read each and every landlord in Edinburgh we can’t know the reason for certain, but the popular theory is that landlords who bought properties for the purpose of renting to fringers lost a lot of income they were counting on in 2020 and 2021 and are desperate to recoup it. I’m not sure if anyone did some proper statistical tracking of this, but what I can say is that I heard endless complaints about high accommodation costs up to and during Edinburgh Fringe. It never use to be like this.

Advert for extortionately-priced Edinburgh flatHowever, it appears most people grumbled but paid up. That, I think, was collectively a mistake, but it seems this gave landlord the message they can get away with anything, and are upping the rents from extortionate to piss-taking. I’ve seen one-month rental costs for flats higher than buying one in a normal city. Okay, these are probably being flagged because they’re the absolute worst examples, but it doesn’t bode well for typical offers. Also, I’m hearing of big-name comedians (who previously had no problem making a profit) questioning if it’s worth it.

The other side of the issue, though, is Edinburgh locals being priced out of living in their own city. Even the most avid fringe-lovers have their patience stretched when would-be homes are being snapped up for one month a year buy to let. So the Scottish Government is planning a ban on short-term lets; Edinburgh Fringe, in response, dropped a bit of a bombshell by forecasting that it will push registrations down by a third in 2024.

The immediate question, however, is what happens this year. Will fringe performers lump it again, or is this the year the bubble finally bursts. The first batch of registrations are now announced (190 as of Feb 16th), but without any easily comparable reference points from last year it’s hard to see where this is going. My forecast, however, is that things are going to get very messy and very nasty. The only question is when.

Latest from Brighton Fringe

Whilst it’s still up in the air what size Edinburgh Fringe will be this year, we have a pretty good idea with Brighton. At the time of writing, there’s 699 registrations. This would suggest it’s slightly down on last year, which wouldn’t be too surprising given the woes from cost-of-living jitters last year, and being down one major venue (Rialto). However, it’s difficult to make an exact comparison, because this year Brighton Fringe is doing without any sort of printed programme at all – as such, the registration deadline doesn’t really mean anything. So we may have more events registering at the last moment, now that missing the printed programme doesn’t apply.

What we can be sure about, however, is that there’s no prospect of getting back to the 900-1000 high water mark of the late 2010s this year. Maybe achievable in future years if new pop-up venue Caravanserai want to grow as big as The Warren did, but let’s face it, enthusiasm for another dominant megavenue is currently zero.

I was going to express concerns about the usability of Brighton Fringe’s new website, but Brighton Fringe has been quick and fixed the problems I flagged already. The only thing I’m still keeping an eye out for is whether this works as a substitute for the Daily Diary which has been discontinued. One way or the other, we need an easy way of seeing what’s on today and when – but if they carry on fixing problems at their current pace, we should be okay.

What is going on in Oldham?

I’ve not really been paying attention to who gained and who lost with the National Portfolio funding rounds outside of the north-east. Whilst I thought the cuts in London were unfortunate, I still prefer this to perpetual top-heavy funding of the capital at the expense of the rest of the country. However, it’s been impossible to ignore what’s happening with Oldham Coliseum. For a start, this doesn’t seem to make sense with what Arts Council England were supposed to be achieving; Oldham is nowhere near London, and is in an area of Greater Manchester that doesn’t have much else in the way of cultural organisations. That’s strangely at odds with the pattern elsewhere of making sure every local area gets something.

Then the bombshell announcements came: firstly that Oldham Coliseum was suspending its programming after March 31st (when the NPO period runs out); and then that they were closing completely. Ignoring the rights and wrongs of this for a moment, this was seriously weird. The NPO funding model is supposed to have bridging support precisely to manage the transition away from NPO status (if not, it would be Armageddon every time there was a new funding round). And then, the really strange development: Arts Council England said it was committed to a cultural venue is Oldham. But not Oldham Coliseum. The closest it gave to a reason was “Oldham Coliseum Ltd has been facing financial and governance challenges for some time”.

For what it’s worth, I think Arts Council England has to be more specific. They argue they don’t make reasons public because of commercial sensitivity, but it’s concerning that they can apparently pass a death sentence on a big arts organisation with no scrutiny of their decisions. However horrible it may be to air dirty laundry in public, if an NPO organisation really has screwed up so badly that they have to be shut down, we deserve to know what it is. And we also need a serious debate on how something this catastrophic has been allowed to fester and escalate out of the public eye. And, of course, Oldham Coliseum Ltd. might be in the right – they must be allowed to argue their case so that ACE can’t make bad funding decisions and get away with it.

Someone has screwed up very badly here, it’s just not clear who. We will do no favours to the people of Oldham by hiding whatever the truth is.

Vault Festival crisis

And just when you think things can’t get any worse, shit is hitting the fan at the Vault Festival. All the festival fringes took a hit with Covid, but the Vault Festival took it the worst. They made a calculated decision to skip 2021 and aim for a relaunch in 2022, only for that to fall foul of Omicron. Cancellation just before a festival starts is the worst possible news financially, so I was wondering if there would be a Vault 2023. But there was, it’s underway – and now, out of the blue, their landlord wants them out.

IMG_4036At this point, it’s worth clarifying the difference between “The Vaults” and “Vault Festival”. The former is the actual physical space underneath Waterloo station. One space is permanently set up as a theatre; the rest, however, are pop-up spaces set up by Vault Festival who rent the space from The Vaults for eight weeks. Very little happens the rest of the year, so the two things were considered synonymous – but not any more. The reason, so we are led to believe, is that The Vaults wants to use the space for longer-term commercial projects.

At first, I’d put this news down to the usual Landlords are Cocks™, with someone valuing short-term profits over long-term cultural investment. But, like Oldham Coliseum, the more I think about it, the more I think there’s more to this than meets the eye. I can easily see selling a building lease to a chain pub or turning a function room into a dining room being a better money-earner if you’re that shallow, but what else is going to make you money underneath a station? If I was seeking to open yet another chain pub in Lambeth, that’s the last place I’d want to put it. Compared to the Vault Lates (effective a club night on Fridays and Saturdays), which sell out easily, I don’t understand where you’ll find a better offer.

The only thing I can see being workable is these immersive theatre experiences that seem to be getting popular in London – but one would that thought that if this was viable, that would already be doing decent business in April to December. No, I’m convinced somebody knows something we don’t. As for what the real reason is, that’s anyone’s guess. Maybe the landlords got greedy and the Vault Festival put their foot down. Or maybe Vault Festival weren’t good tenants and kept trashing the place. Or maybe it was a pointlessly stupid outcome of another pointless culture war. I’ll talk about Vault’s plans for the future when I do my roundup – but this is very odd.

1950s Beamish

Okay, now you’re all feeling depressed, let’s end with something positive. For a change, a bit of local cultural news that isn’t performing arts, which is Beamish. For my London readers, Beamish is an open-air museum that has numerous buildings made to look like buildings from the 1830s to 1940s – quite often real buildings that would otherwise have been demolished, moved and rebuilt brick by brick. For the last few years, however, they’ve been working on a big project of the 1950s – a period of history that’s always fascinated me where the hopes of a nation emerging victorious from a world war still mixed in quite conservative ideas of how to live your life.

IMG_8458Well, the thing I hadn’t realise is just how big this project is. At the time of my visit, there is a 1950s village hall, shopping street, and a 1950s farm, but that’s only about half of it. We still have a 1950s council estate, cinema and bowling alley to go. And these aren’t just museum pieces either. Beamish has always had cafes and bars themed to their respective time period, but this goes further. The village hall was doing a traditional village panto, and I believe the cinema and bowling alley will be available for real cinema and bowling. This project isn’t just an extension of the time period covered by Beamish, it’s also an extension of what the open air museum does.

The thing that struck me the most, however, is that sometimes things look different today – and sometimes it feels exactly the same. The 1950s council houses currently being built now look very much the same as the modern houses being built today. The insides of houses don’t look too different from ours, except that there’s no modern appliances. The traditional panto I caught a glimpse of looks like any village hall panto today. Probably the most interesting one, however, is the 1950s farm from the Durham Dales. It looks reasonably similar to a modern home except … no electricity.

County Durham and Tyne & Wear folk: highly recommend this. Should be complete in a few months’ time. A favourite attraction of County Durham has just taken on a new dimension.

Stuff I wrote in February

Apart from that, here’s what else I’ve been covering:

What’s worth watching: winter/spring 2023: A shorter list of recommendations that usual, because a lot of the picks that grabbed my eye aren’t happening until spring/summer.

We need to talk about Roald Dahl and sensitivity readers: TLDR: it wasn’t censorship, but it was incredibly petty moralising. What this business did reveal, however, was the flaws in the sensitivity reading process, and just how much power publishers have to abuse.

16 films and plays I find objectionable (that no-one else seems to have a problem with): Intended to be mostly a light-hearted piece, but intended to answer a long-running question on whether there are limits to me easy-going attitude. Prepare to have your favourite nostalgia ruined. (The last two entries on the list, however, I really do have problems with).

Love It When We Beat Them: back to the future: I have finally been invited to Live Theatre’s press events. I give my verdict on a pleasing opening to the 50th anniversary season, and give my highlights of what’s coming up over the rest of the year.

Love It When We Beat Them: back to the future

Pictured: £1.50 for a pint. Damn you.

Skip to: Press launch

The play may be billed as politics, but the real story is the people behind the politics. It is this human story, not a soapbox, that makes Love If When We Beat Them a good start to Live’s anniversary programme.

Sometimes, the fortunes of a play come to luck. Even if you’ve penned the greatest play in the world, you can struggle to get an audience if the topic’s not in fashion. A play set in 1996 with both the runaway success of Newcastle United and runaway success of Labour as a government in waiting might have parallels now, but when it was first showcased at last year’s Elevator festival, it was far from certain. There was no guarantee the the new Labour lead fresh from Partygate would last – now, however a Labour victory next year is increasingly looking like a forgone conclusion (for anyone not certain of what changed in the last 12 months: where have you been)? And even if you could have predicted that, no-one could have predicted Newcastle United’s first Wembley appearance for years. But hey, no-one’s complaining.

loveit-46With the stage set around a pool table, there’s a couple of of signs to show it’s the nineties: a payphone by the wall, and £1.50 for a pint of beer (I said as I stared longingly). Len (David Nellist) and Michael (Dean Bone) are playing pool taunting each other on their respective football affiliations of Newcastle and Sunderland and/or resolving confusion over what you now call the Second Division. Until Michael drops in a downer by mentioning that a mutual friend of theirs has unexpectedly died. However, whilst Michael is reflecting on their loss, Len is keeping his eye on the bigger picture. That unfortunate guy was the local MP, and Len’s convinced he’ll be a shoo-in as successor, much to the annoyance of Jean (Jessica Johnson), who’d rather have a husband there for her. Unluckily for Len, Victoria (Eve Tucker) from Manchester is also eyeing up the seat – and, worse for him, already seems to have the backing of Labour’s NEC.

Yes, one thing from 1996 that’s made a comeback is Labour in-fighting. Just like Newcastle and Sunderland are more interested in sniping at each other than focusing on beating the teams down south, with a Labour victory next year already in the bag, the Blairite right and Old Labour left are in an increasingly bitter struggle for control of the party. Victoria blames Len’s wing for the Labour’s most disastrous defeat, Len blames the defeat on the splitters. In fact, a good proportion of the play goes to raking over the old arguments of the two labour wings that aren’t too different from today’s arguments. What would have been a mistake here is to make one side into a straw man so that the other side wins the arguments. (Please don’t do that again, that ranks amongst one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen.) However, Rob Ward writes Len and Victoria as two soul believing passionately in what they say. Whether people call you a wild-eyed trot and a Red Tory sell-out, you can watch this play and think your points have been well made.

Continue reading

16 films and plays I find objectionable (that no-one else seems to have a problem with)

Pocahogwash: Disney’s amazingly untrue story about a brave young Native American princess who single-handedly threw out the evil forest-destroying British, before welcoming in the the wise all-American settlers, who later stole their land and massacred them. Probably starring Jeremy Irons or Alan Rickman as the evil British captain, Captain Evil.

Following straight on from my Roald Dahl piece, where I said I didn’t see what the problem was with the text that had been changed, and earlier pieces such as my reaction to Puppetgate, where I wasn’t offended, you might be asking: “Okay, is there anything you have a problem with?” The main reason I stay out of the usual cycles of outrage is that I have better things to do. I treat material I might object to the same as material that’s not to my tastes in general – I don’t have to watch it, and nine times out of ten it’s obvious it’s going to be like that from the publicity. You have a much stronger case standing up to censorship of things you do like if you respect other people’s rights to watch things you don’t.

But there are nevertheless things I think overstep the line. For example, I wrote at length about Music (or, as I like to describe it, the shit version of Rain Man), and I could go on forever joining in dogpiles. But I’d rather challenge things that aren’t getting attention. With some of society obsessed with the pettiest micromanagement of some popular works, I can only look at other works and ask: why aren’t people up in arms about that? Some problems are things I wouldn’t expect most people to notice; other times, it’s issues commonly talked about – why does this one get a free pass? And top of the list is so blatant, there’s only one reason I can see to tolerate it, which is rank hypocrisy. But we’ll get to that alter.

So, the rules. Some of the things in this list I personally consider objectionable. Other things I think are unfair to other groups of people. In the latter case, I’ve done a bit of cursory research to see if the people concerned also have a problem – if not, I let it go. It pisses me of no-end when self-righteous arseholes decree what neurodivergent people are offended by without asking us, so I have no intention of getting offended on other people’s behalf. The other rule is it’s got to be something that isn’t facing widespread criticism. Otherwise, it’s joining in dogpiles.

And to be clear: I don’t want any of these cancelled. Offence alone is never a valid reason for censorship. The usual tactic used by Mary Whitehouse-wannabes is to conflate offensive with harmful, but nine times out of ten it’s nothing that can’t be solved with the “off” button. Some at the end start to overstep that line, but not enough to overcome my support for freedom of speech.

So here we go. Prepare to have your favourite films, movies and plays ruined.

16. I Dreamed a Dream

I have nothing against Susan Boyle or Elaine C. Smith – but there’s no escaping the awful hypocrisy surrounding of the people responsible for the sudden rise to fame. I’ve written about this before, but the fairy story constructing around Susan Boyle is a textbook example of the soft bigotry of low expectations. Why was the country so surprised that a woman who wasn’t conventionally attractive and behaved a bit odd turned out to be quite good at singing? Because for years Britian’s Got talent – with the full backing of ITV and the entire press – has been systemically pedalling the narrative that anyone looks a bit funny is talentless. All they did was express surprise that some defied the stereotype they created in the first place. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Cowell and Co had a change of heart after Susan Boyle’s performance. They did not – right afterwards it was back to business as usual. (A similar gesture with Lost Voice Guy many years later does not compensate for this either.)

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Alice in Wonderland: pink elephants edition

Skip to: Family album

Out goes a cute and wholesome Wonderland popularised by Disney and in comes a sinister Wonderland with danger and menace around every corner. Yes, I like it.

I know we should avoid comparing adaptations of stories to the Disney version where one exists, but for one it’s appropriate to open with a bit of Disney trivia. In the early days of Disney, there were two distinct styles of animation. “West coast” was the style that could be considered traditional Disney, with wholesome content, naturalistic drawing and usually a moral. “East coast”, on the other hand, featured morphing characters, themes of drugs/sex/death and usually hedonistic jazz music, of which the early Betty Boop cartoons are the best known example today. Walt Disney did, however, have some East Coast animators on his books, and when he let them get their hands on Dumbo, they added into the wholesome and twee story the drug-induced nightmare sequence that is the pick elephants sequence. And that is why children have had nightmares since 1941.

And so we come to the New Vic’s version of Alice in Wonderland. All of Theresa Heskins’s Christmas productions have been big successes, filling up the theatre long after most pantos have packed up, but this is regarded as the biggest success of all. (Indeed, Northern Stage picked this up for the own Christmas Production a few years back.) Having now seen this for myself, I can best describe this as how Disney would have done Alice if Walt had given this the Pink Elephants treatment. And, for the avoidance of doubt: that means I liked it.

The New Vic makes a big thing of their titular character being different from the one we’re used to. In both the book and the Disney version*, the story begins on a very middle-class rowing boat in the very middle-class Cotswolds. Theresa Heskins aims to make this more relatable to a Stoke audience by making her families who travel through The Potteries on a canal boat (Stoke, of course, having loads of canals). They live day to day and just get by. A clever bit in the town is where everyone she meets has an upcoming alter-ego in the other world. The future Mad Hatter is earning a living as a hatter (because of course), and the future White Rabbit is currently a slightly sinister magician pulling a white rabbit out of his hat. Out goes the rabbit hole and in goes a trap door in the theatre where the white rabbit magician is working.

Continue reading

What’s worth watching: Vault Festival 2023

Continue? Yes/No Yes is selected.

Skip to: All Falls Down, Salamander, Experiment Human, Police Cops: Badass Be Thy Name, Finlay and Joe, Isobel Rogers, Lachlan Werner, Hide, Notflix, The Dark Room, Criminally Untrue

One year ago, the Vault Festival suffered what was surely the worst possible disaster: with days to go before opening night, the whole festival was cancelled. It was very very very bad news for two reasons. Firstly, with Vault 2021 also cancelled, there was a clear three years between Vault festivals, with no guarantee that the community built up over the 2010s would still exist by the end of it. Worse, however, was the timing. 2021 was at least a planned cancellation; 2022, however, was supposed to be the big relaunch. Financially speaking, the last thing you want to do is cancel a large-scale event after doing all the up-front expenses.

Very easy to say this in hindsight, but an underground festival in London in the winter of 2022 never struck me as a good idea. Had they played it safe and gone for March-May 2022, I reckon it would have survived – but I don’t see how they could have postponed everything at the last moment. In different circumstances we could have been talking about one error of judgement that brought down one of the best loved festival of fringe theatre in the country … But – we are not. Vault 2023 is going ahead, and from the sound of things, it’s going to be as if nothing’s happened. Either Vault has deeper pockets than we realise, have good cancellation insurance up their sleeve, or they have a generous backer come to rescue we don’t know about. Whatever the reason, it’s back to business.

So this means it’s back to business for me too. I’ll shortly be going into my list of recommendations, but first, a recap on what to expect.

Continue reading

7 Thoughts I have on the Jerry Sadowitz uproar

COMMENT: Some say it was hate speech, some say it way misunderstood – either way Pleasance mishandled the situation and Jerry Sadowitz has gained from the cancellation.

If you’ve made it this far past the Edinburgh Fringe without hearing about the Jerry Sadowitz fiasco, well done. For the rest of you, I’m sorry to have to remind you of this. But just when we thought that all of the arguments over the decisions made by the Festival Fringe Society were dying down, this blew up.

So, Jerry Sadowitz is a comedian who I’d never heard of and would probably continued to have never heard of were it not for a couple of performances at Pleasance EICC in the second weekend on Edinburgh Fringe. (Fringe Newbies: EICC is one of the biggest venues on the fringe, which the biggest of big name comedians perform at.) Out of the blue, the second of the two performances got cancelled. A bit of puzzlement at first, accompanied by some nerves – after all, the last known cancellation imposed on artists was one of the most notorious McCarthyite affairs in the history of the fringe. Then word got round about what it was he said and did that led to this. A lot of argument over what he meant, but on the face of it: holy shit. If anything was going to get you booted from a venue, this would.

The Fringe itself is open access, but the venues themselves are free to do what they want, and the decision to cancel was The Pleasance’s. This led to a big debate over freedom of speech at the Edinburgh Fringe. I gave some thoughts at the time, but now things have calmed down, it’s time to give some more.

A lot of the debate has been polarised by ideological leanings. For many people who’ve expressed an opinion one way or the other, it strongly looks like they made up their mind first and looked for argument to support their position second. So I should probably remind you at this point that I am myself very anti-censorship and pro-artistic freedom – although these comments, on the face of it, pushes my patience to the limit. You’ll have to decide your yourself if you trust me to be objective.

Continue reading