Later than usual (again). I’m quickly have a reminder that the month after a play finishes isn’t peace and quiet – it’s the month where I have to catch up on everything that I’ve had to postpone from the previous two months. But before we dive into the thick of Edinburgh Fringe, there’s a chance to catch up on things that have been happening between Edinburgh and Brighton.
Stuff that happened in June
The rise of Greater Manchester Fringe
The next major thing on my calendar is, of course, Buxton Fringe, the UK’s third biggest fringe after Edinburgh and Brighton. As long as this blog’s been going, these have always been considered the big three. Now, however, we may need to start thinking about a fourth. Greater Manchester Fringe barely existed when I started writing, but this year there are about 120 registrations. That’s not far behind Buxton, currently around 180.
Greater Manchester Fringe is supported by a recently-vibrant year-round fringe theatre scene, similar to the Vault festival being supported by the year-round fringe theatre scene in London. But there is an important difference: the Vault is a curated festival (and it would be impractical to be anything else), but the Greater Manchester Fringe is a proper fringe where anyone who wants to take part can. They make it clear that if you can’t get programmed into a listed fringe venue, you can find your own venue and register than way. And one small but important symbolic gesture is that they actively encourage people to see shows by groups you’ve never heard of in venues you’ve never been to. It could not be more different from the Great Yorkshire Fringe, where anyone who is not programmed into their official venues is given the cold shoulder. Continue reading
Holy shit, six years. Don’t I have anything better to do? But as WordPress has been keen to remind me, that’s how long I’ve been running this blog. Three years ago, I wrote What I’ve learned from three years of theatre blogging. It’s interesting for me to read my old articles, but looking at this now, there’s nothing where I’ve really changed my mind.
But now I’ve made it to six years (and I vigorously deny all those vicious rumours that I planned to do this for five years but I never got round to it), it’s a good time to add some new things. Some of them things I was close to learning anyway – on or two, however, are eye-openers, and not in a good way.
1: You have responsibilities
When I started doing this on a whim back in 2012, the last thing I imagined is that this would actually matter. Most plays, I just assumed, got plenty of “proper” reviews, and mine would be added to the pile. The most difference I thought this would make is that it would provide some constructive feedback that performers would be free to heed or ignore as they pleased.
What I hadn’t realised was how rare a commodity a review is. Outside of productions programmed by major theatres, it’s difficult to get any kind of coverage. Your review in a self-published blog may be the only one. It could be the only source of constructive feedback a group gets. You could be the only evidence a group has when making an arts council grant. It could spell the difference with whether or not other review publications give them a chance in the future. Continue reading
One thing I’ve made a conscious decision on this month to stop covering for the time being is the ongoing row of Times Square Panto. There is now little argument over who was in the right and who was in the wrong, and now it’s descending into legal wrangles over whether anyone should be held personally liable. I don’t kick artists when they’re down, and that includes speculating over legal liability. When this is all over, one way or the other, I may come back to this, but that’s all for now.
Without that, I expected this to be a short article, with not much of interest (apart from one thing I need to write a full article on), but when I checked back, more things got added to the list. So it’s an eventful month after all.
Stuff that happened in March:
All change at Durham
Starting on home turf this time, there are two big announcements from Durham venues. I have links with both these venues and frequently hear stuff in advance of official announcements, but before anyone tries reading between the lines here, I must make it clear that: 1) everything I’m telling you has already been stated on the record, and 2) at this moment, there is nothing I’ve heard off the record that I’m not telling you. Continue reading
In a rare twist of fate, I am getting my monthly roundup out on time. I did expect to be busy with lots of other things, but owing to the snow forcing the cancellation of pretty much everything, I have some free time for once. Let’s go:
Stuff that happened in February
The thing that caught my attention most in February was, of course, those silly people at Manchester Art Gallery who drew absurd parallels looking at a Victorian painting of nudey ladies and Harvey Weinstein going round raping everybody, took a painting down to Start A Debate™, and then ignored and dismissed the responses of the entire country (pretty much) telling them to fuck off (pretty much). I wrote at length about why you should worry about this, and a new tactic of censorship emerging in the arts, but I’m done with this for the time being. They are supposedly going to have A Series Of Debates™ this month – if, as I’ve expected all along, it’s a series of panels packed with yes men (and yes women), I’ll probably take the piss of of them further. In the incredibly unlikely event they they engage with criticism for a change, I will give them a chance. But I’m not holding my breath.
Apart from that, here were some other notable events for the month:
Latest from Brighton
With the close of Brighton Fringe registrations comes the annual ritual of seeing how many registrations there are. In recent years, the news of big increases has come with a big fanfare. However, this time, the publicity surrounding the launch kept quiet on this number, and – in line with the precedent of Edinburgh keeping quiet in years when the numbers flatline – it turned out there was a slight drop. It’s not clear what exactly what the numbers are this time, because the number of entries of the website seems to fluctuate, but the figure seems to be somewhere between 958 and 967, down slightly from last year’s peak of 970. Continue reading
Right, thanks a bunch Manchester Art Gallery for giving me extra work to do. That’s okay, I’ve been meaning to get off my chest this new kind of censorship that’s been creeping into the arts. However, it does mean that odds and sods is now ten days overdue. I’m holding you personally responsible.
I skip December for odds and sods, because usually not a lot happens apart from pantos, pantos and more pantos. This time, however, there was a bit of a scandal; for a region where the local media says everything is awesome, this raised quite a lot of eyebrows. That kept me distracted for a lot of the last two months. But apart from that, and those silly people over in Manchester, here’s the other things that have caught my eye.
Stuff that happened in December and January
Enter Joe Douglas
So the big news from the north-east is that Live Theatre has chosen a new Artistic Director, replacing Max Roberts who announced he was stepping down last year. That’s about all I can say it this point. Joe Douglas is currently a freelance director based mostly in Scotland, but it’s hard to tell what his background means for live, other than the obvious thing of producing more new writing. As we saw from Paul Robinson’s arrival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, by the time the new artistic director commissions his own work, programmes it, directs it and performs it, it can take over 18 months before you get a good idea of what a new artistic director is going to bring. Continue reading
UPDATE: Most of you looking for this article will know this already: but there is one small but important clarification to make. This story, along with everything else written at the time, said Denise Welch quit the show. We now know this is disputed: Denise Welch has since said she was sacked after threatening to speak out. Doesn’t change what I wrote, but something to bear in mind. Will update on all the shennagins soon.
Sorry to burden you with another Pantogate article. I wrote one, and thought that would be enough. But that was before the shit really hit the fan. Oh boy. Just when everyone thought things had settled down at Times Square Panto after the celebrity walkout, it came to a head on the last day with another walkout, only this time, it was enough to get the last two performances cancelled. It would be extremely tempting at this stage for me to say “I told you this would happen,” but that wouldn’t be truthful. In all honesty, I never for a moment imagined things would get this bad.
I have a rule on this blog (indeed with life in general) that I don’t kick public figures when they’re down. For reason I’ll come on to in a moment, I think the game is up for Times Square Panto, so there’s little point dogpiling any further. All it’s fair to do now is sum up what happened and ask what lessons can be learned. However, some questions need asking over how this was allowed to get to this point. Had there been some more vigilance, I have doubts it would ever have had to come to this.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Oh boy.
There’s one final thing to wind up from the year just gone – well, apart from all the reviews I still have to write – which is the annual roundup of what you read on this blog. Without further ado, let’s down to business.
Most popular new articles
Not counting regular articles such as the fringe coverage (which always gets loads of view for obvious reasons), here’s what got the most interest by category.
Most read comment piece: The most read comment piece was one I almost didn’t write. Even though I didn’t see Northern Broadsides’ Richard III, I wrote it because the use of a disabled actors in the titular role, I thought, was a very good idea. But I still shied away from writing this because, on the subject of providing opportunities to groups who are at a disadvantaged, I’m hesitant to tell other people what’s good for them. But I went ahead, being careful what I said, and it seems Northern Broadsides agreed because they publicised this and it got an unprecedented number of views. Continue reading