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.

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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Odds and sods: November 2022

Sorry this is late. Was suddenly made busy with panto tech, long story. Let’s get to it.

Stuff that happened in November:

It’s been a slower news month than usual, but there were still a few things that I thought were worth reporting.

Boho Arts

bohoThe big news from the north-east is it looks like another venue is on the way in Newcastle – and this is a big deal. I’ve been saying for some time now that Newcastle needs another venue of a scale comparable to early-days Alphabetti theatre. Welcome though Alphabetti’s success is, the fact that it was so quick for its programming to be saturated showed just how much pent-up demand there was for somewhere to perform; something that one new fringe theatre alone couldn’t achieve. The recent arrival of The Laurels in Whitley Bay might relieve the squeeze a bit, but my hunch is that we need another space in Newcastle – preferably managed and programmed independently of the current venues. And now it looks like we’re going to get one. Step forward Boho Arts.

With small-scale venues in short supply, any new one would be newsworthy,, but it’s doubly newsworthy because this is being openly back by a lot of well-known Newcastle names. And, interestingly, the lion’s share of their Crowdfunder has come from the North of Tyne Combined Authority – notable in its own right as this is (I think) the first major intervention from the new regional mayoralty in the arts.

If you want to back this (and if you have any interests in grass-roots levels arts I think this is in your interests), the crowdfunder is still open here. Also (more low-key but still relevant) they are looking for volunteers here. Keep an eye on this, because it’s a big deal. In five years’ time we could easily be mentioning this in the same breath as Alphabetti Theatre.

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Odds and Sods: October 2022

Time for another odds and sods. One thing I have still not mentioned is the Chris Goode shitshow that blew up this month. Rest assured, I am well aware of this – I will be talking about this separately, because there’s a lot to cover there.

Stuff that happened in October

Having started off mentioning the really depressing news, I’ll carry on doing this in order. I’ll move on to the next least cheery development, and finish with some good news.

Edinburgh Film Festival under threat?

I’m starting with the most concerning news this time, so read on for the cheerier stuff. This has only really been on the Edinburgh cultural radar, but in the worst case scenario the rest of us will be noticing the fall-out very soon.

film_festival_logoSo, the news that has rocked Edinburgh is that the Centre for the Moving Image has gone into administration, with trading ceasing immediately and all staff being made redundant. Truth be told, I’d never heard of this organisation until I saw it was in this much trouble. It runs two arthouse cinemas in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, both with strong local followings. However, there is a more significant part to this that runs wider: they also operate the Edinburgh International Film Festival. That has been running as long as the Edinburgh Fringe, and is one of the festivals under the Edinburgh Festival banner. There is a long-running theory that the powers that be in Edinburgh would never allow one of its flagship festivals to disappear – but that it about to be put to the test. And if we’re wrong, which other festivals would they allow to go bust? The tattoo? The international festival? The Edinburgh Fringe itself?


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Odds and sods: September 2022

We’re back into autumn, so it’s time to get stuck in to odds and sods again: a round-up of various things that have been happening that don’t fit anywhere else on the blog.

Stuff that happened in September

I will mention at this point that this list doesn’t mention a couple of pretty major things that happened recently: Edinburgh International Film Festival under threat, and one of the worst scandals yet of abusive directors. I am still processing the information of these, and I will be commenting by October odds and sods by the latest.

Other than that, it’s been a slow news month overall, but a few things are worth mentioning.

Unboxed aka Brexit Festival

So the big news that broke in September – if you can call it that – was the festival on nobody’s radar. I raised by eyebrows when the idea of a “festival of Brexit” was first raise, but what with one thing and another happening in 2020 and 2021 I forgot about this. I vaguely remembered hearing about the festival happening in 2022, but to be brutally honest I had no idea the festival had come and gone until I read the news about it being a flop. Now, I’m not sure what sort of numbers it’s fair to expect for this festival, but it was pretty dire: 238 thousand visitors (whatever that means) against upper aspirations of 66 million. Ouch. Even more embarrassing, it allegedly cost four times the budget of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, which was enjoyed by most of the country.

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Odds and sods: June 2022

Yes, I know, it’s closer to August than June now – for those of you who follow my projects, you’ll know what kept me busy. But there’s some bits of news that have happened since the end of Brighton Fringe that need some attention. Three of these things are probably some sort of good news, in either the sort term or the long term; however, the other one is a very sorry development of a once-respectable organisation who’ve committed the thing I hate more than anything else: hypocrisy.

Stuff that happened in June

But let’s leave that till last. Most of the news from last month and this month is about the Edinburgh Fringe; I will be leaving that for my Edinburgh Fringe coverage itself. But apart from that, this happened:

Quentin Letts strikes again

Apologies. I hear you all going “Oh no, not this one again.” Bear with me, there is a reason why I’m picking this one up.

As pretty much everyone has worked out by now, Quentin Letts is a theatre reviewer who makes a name for himself but being controversial and offensive for the sake of it. Until now, he’s been mostly active at the Daily Mail where he panders to an audience who like diatribes about the wokies who’ve taken over theatre, and the easy solution was to just not invite the Daily Mail to press nights – seriously, what are you missing? Unfortunately, for some reason he is now also reviewing for The Sunday Times. Anyway, the furore broke out all over again with the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Legally Blonde, where the part of Elle Woods was played by a black woman.

Against my better judgement, I read the review (content warning: Quentin Letts). Now, if you think the story doesn’t work if the lead is played by someone who’s clearly not a natural blonde, I will defend you right to say so (although the obvious solution, as always: if you don’t like it, don’t watch it). This review, however, was just nasty, with far more thinly-veiled personal insults than anything about the show itself. That is different from what I’ve seen before. His infamous reviews of Salome and The Fantastic Follies of Mrs. Rich, attention-seeking drivel though they were, has a method: he chose his words have a bare minimum of objectionable content needed to cause widespread outrage. This one, I have to say, was bile from start to finish.

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Odds and sods: March 2022

For the first time in three years, odds and sods makes it to March without a catastrophic event rendering it redundant. To recap how this works, March is normally my last monthly update until June. In April and May, I turn my focus to Brighton Fringe, and any notable events that take place over this time tend to get mentioned in the coverage. That established, let’s get going.

Stuff that happened in March:

It’s been a slow news month. The biggest news was the first major production of The Laurels, which effectively amounted to its launch. You can follow that link for my account of how this got here and what this means for the future, but their debut production was impressive. Other than that, developments have been thin on the ground and I’ve been scraping the bottom of the barrel. But here’s what’s been going on.

Edinburgh Fringe and employment

With the Edinburgh Fringe set this year to return to something comparable to pre-Covid times, concerns have been raising about the return of bad practices. A few weeks ago, I was worried this was turning into a pretext to campaign for the removal of open access – that would be a huge step backwards. (Fortunately, the festival Fringe Society shows no sign of budging there.) However, the battle lines seem to have been drawn around employment practices, in particular the use of volunteers. It’s difficult to piece together reliable conclusions based on the info we have, but one of the bigger worries is that the volunteer adverts posted by C Venues – who were pilloried three years ago for allegedly treating staff the worst – suggested more of the same. In response, Shona McCarthy has made this statement about employment conditions.

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Odds and sods: February 2022

Right, what happened in February. Oh yes. That.

But apart from That, this also happened.

Stuff that happened in February

So far the first time since 2019, we have preparations underway for all the main fringes. Last year was cause for celebration when, against all odds and so much stacked against them, the two biggest fringes put on great comeback festivals. Now, however, it seems we’re into the hangover. Oh dear, here’s what’s been going on.

Brighton Fringe loses The Warren

E2u1hO0XoAQQfM2How could this possibly go so wrong? Brighton Fringe 2021 was, by all accounts, a roaring success, with custom for both ticket sales and ancillary income (i.e. drinking) vastly outperforming every expectation. But then, last October, signs emerged that perhaps all was not well after all, specifically with The Warren. Complaints started emerging online from performers and staff about not being paid that year, both from the Fringe and the subsequent Warren on the Beach (although some are going further and claiming the problem goes back years). It did seem strange that such difficulties were happening after such a lucrative summer, but apparently it’s perfectly possible for this to happen simply because of inadequate financial management. The absence of anyone from The Warren at registration launch also seemed strange. Then the news died down and the registration for Brighton Fringe approached and I assumed that The Warren must have got a grip on events and settled it quietly.

And then, days before announcement of the full programme, the bombshell was announced by Brighton Fringe: The Warren will not take part in 2022 whilst it sorts out its finances. The announcement came from Brighton fringe rather than the venue, but it sounds like they’ve admitted they screwed up. The problem with the timing is a lot of artists were already programmed to perform there. There is currently a scramble to find alternatives, but off-hand it doesn’t look like there’s enough spare capacity at the other venues to absorb this. At the time of writing, Brighton Fringe doesn’t seem to be budging on its 7th March deadline to get in the printed daily guide. It also dashes the (previously quite high) hopes that Brighton Fringe would be back to full strength for 2022.

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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.

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Odds and sods: November 2021

It’s December, and we’ve had a November which almost looks like business as usual. So let’s do a business as usual roundup of things that have been happening other than plays to review and other things that didn’t warrant entire articles. For those of you who need a refresher, November is my last Odds and Sods of the year, because December is basically pantos and not much else. Let’s dive straight in.

Stuff that happened in November

So the big thing that got me talking was the Royal Court’s ill-judged character on Elon Musk named Hershel Fink. Cue outrage from everyone who thought the Jewish-sounding name was an insinuation that Jews secretly control the world. The Royal Court admitted they got it wrong; some people think that’s the end of the matter, others aren’t so forgiving and think there’s a deeper problem with the Royal Court. I’ve gone further: I suspect this is a problem endemic to the whole of the theatre industry, with the Royal Court merely being the most obvious offender. So what was originally meant to b a couple of paragraphs here became a long-read article in its own right. You are probably not going to like what I have to say. But read it anyway.

Apart from that, this all happened:

Vault Festival returns

festivalpasssmallSo we start the round-up with the news that the Vault Festival is returning in 2022. For festival fringe fans who are new to this, the Vault Festival takes a lot of acts of the length and scale you’d expect to the Edinburgh Fringe – indeed many of the acts go to or form there – but unlike the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s curated. I believe one in six of the applicants get programmed, and realistically there’s no way Vault could run as an open festival. However, until Brighton Fringe gets going in May, this is the closest thing you’re going to get to a fringe.

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