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.
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
How 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.
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
In 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.
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
So 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.
So, it’s back to business, and for old time’s, sake, I’m going back to my monthly odds and sods updates being late. I would have got it out on time, but a certain shitstorm blew up that I had to write about first. But now that this is out of the way (for a moment), let’s catch up with what else has been happening.
Stuff that happened in October:
So the big thing that happened – not quite theatre news but still very relevant to north-east culture – was SSD Concerts. Previously making a name for themselves back in April by allegedly going round groping everybody, after the MD implicated in this resigned, we thought we’d heard the last of the MD, or SSD Concerts, or groping, or all three. Nope. It now looks like they thought they could lie low a few months and then just carry on like nothing had happened. The good news is they thought wrongly, and didn’t get away with it.
However, the less prominent news stories, involving people who – as far as I’m aware – don’t behave like sex cases, are:
The excitement at the start of this month was the news that Durham has made it through to the longlist of City of Culture 2025. One important point is that it is Durham County that is bidding for this rather than just the city. This makes use of a rule change that this time round, regions can bid for the title – it need not be a specific urban area. This suits the bid, because ever since Durham County Council became a unitary authority, they’ve been promoting the culture of the county as a unit. Events such as Kynren and attractions such as Beamish are routinely alongside events and attractions in Durham city itself.
So, who remembers the “before” times? Well, one thing I used to write on most months was “odds and sods”, rounding up the little things that have been happening in theatre that weren’t reviews or recommendations or something that required a full article. Then along came a certain event that put paid to little events happening in theatres, or indeed any kind of event.
Contrary to what it feels like for a lot of people, things haven’t ground to a complete halt for 18 months. In spite of the high-profile cancellation of Edinburgh Fringe 2020 there’s still been a lot going on with the fringe circuit to keep me busy. However, in the north-east, theatre has only really got going in the last month. But things haven’t been entirely still on regional theatre, and we’ve got some pretty significant events to catch up on. So, let’s do a catch-up.
What’s been happening between March 2020 and September 2021. Apart from Coronavirus.
There’s a been a lot to talk about relating to Coronavirus, both directly and indirectly. Most of this I’ve talked about indirectly in my live fringe coverage. I might round this up later, but here I am concentrating on what else happened. Here are some events that could just have easily taken place another time.
New artistic directors
When we left off, Lorne Campbell had just departed Northern Stage for a new challenge at the National Theatre of Wales, and the search for his successor was underway. But part-way through 2020 came the shock news that his Live Theatre counterpart Joe Douglas was also leaving. The reason I say shock is because he was doing so well. Sometimes, when an artistic director leaves unexpectedly, I later find out that some of the trustees weren’t happy with the way he or she was taking the theatre, but that looks far form the case here. His first Live Theatre play sold out and came back for another run, and the second also sold out and looked set to come back too. I will say that I did hear a few grumbles over Lorne Campbell (not that I have any reason to believe that was why he moved), but Joe Douglas was getting universal praise. Ah well. Looks like sometimes life’s demands outside of the theatre are more important.
Those of you with good memories will recall that my monthly odds and sods articles are supposed to come shortly after month has ended, not when we’re nearly at the end of the next one. My excuse is that there’s no let-up in my day job and 50-hor weeks are still the norm. As such, I was tempted to gave January a miss and catch up with everything in a February edition. However, there have been a couple of pretty major things that have happened over the winter that need attention, but I’ve decided it’s better late than nuver.
Stuff that happened in December and January
So what’s been happening in December and January to grab my attention. Let’s start with two pretty major news stories that could have a lot of repercussions, and then follow it up with two more things of interest.
Goodbye Great Yorkshire Fringe
So there was one big bit of news that almost passed me by, but after five years of the Great Yorkshire, founder Fringe Martin Witt has pulled the plug on this festival – and is blaming York City Council for this. As my regular readers will know, I’ve been quite critical of this fringe in recent years for its practice of curating who can take part, in contrast to all the major fringe that are open to all. However, in the end, the mood is it’s a dispute over city centre management that has brought about the end. There does seem to be a consensus that it came down lack of space to set up its pop-up venues, meaning it would have spread over more of the city instead of the cluster of venues in one place. That, I appreciate, must have been demoralising for the fringe organisers. Continue reading →
Time for 2019’s final odds and sods. Let’s get straight into it. November has been a month of riots and the total destruction of the country, or at least that’s what Mark Francois told me. But in between rebuilding civilisation from the shattered remains of our society, this happened:
Stuff that happened in November
There was one important bit of news, and that was the events at Middlesbrough Town Hall coming to light. The short version is that this venue refused “comedian” (note use of quotation marks) Roy Chubby Brown the use of Middlesbrough Town Hall, the mayor overruled management, and the manager of the venue resigned in protest. The long version is these actions shine a spotlight into the normally murky world of programming and politics. And with both the original actions of the venue and the subsequent intervention of the mayor, you should be concerned. For more details, see We need to talk about Roy Chubby Brown.
Apart from that, here’s the rest of the news, and my thoughts on the matter.
Lumiere 2021 is on
We start with the big event of November, which is Lumiere. As usual, I will be doing a roundup, probably so late that by the time it’s done it’ll be time for the next Lumiere. As anyone who was in Durham that week will know, the weather was not kind and there was a lot of rain on three of the four nights. Anecdotally, I overheard a lot of people saying they weren’t going to bother because of the weather, and for anyone who is used to Lumiere crowds and know when and where it’s hard to get around, it was plain to see the numbers were down, although there was a consolation that you had to spend less time queuing in the rain. The turnout estimates are now out and as suspected, it is down quite a lot: 165,000, a drop of nearly a quarter from last year’s peak of 240,000. Had this happened in 2013, when the question over a return was up in the air, that would have been a disaster. Continue reading →
Another month, another delay to a Mad Max-style apocalypse. So I can take a break from stockpiling tines and loading a the shotgun to ward off the mutants and get back to what’s been happening in theatre.
Stuff that happened in October
Lorne Campbell moves on
So we begin news from October with the biggie, and quite unexpected. Lorne Campbell, artistic director of Northern Stage, is stepping down. He’s not been at Northern Stage that long either. When someone leaves a post like this abruptly, it’s always tempting to speculate if he jumped before he was pushed – here, however, it’s not very likely. He is moving on to be artistic director of the National Theatre of Wales, which can be looked on as a promotion. However, it still means that, once more, chrisontheatre gets to play it’s favourite game of waiting for the announcement of the artistic director, and – more importantly – considering what this means for Northern Stage’s future. Continue reading →
That’s it. Another fringe season out of the way. So now it’s time to turn attention back to what else has been going on outside of the fringe scene. I know we’ve all been distracted by that petulant toddler since my last odds and sods in June, but there’s more to life than that.
Besides, this odds and sods is going to be more contentious than usual. Not everyone is going to like everything I say about three particularly thorny issues.
Stuff that happened since June
A lot of the big news over the summer is, of course, related to the Edinburgh Fringe. Most of that you will find in my live Edinburgh Fringe coverage. However, I want this to concentrate on what else has been going. So here’s some interesting developments that got my attention:
Seyi Omooba sues Leicester Curve
So let’s begin with the story that went into a new (and perhaps inevitable) chapter at the end of the month. Back in March there was the story of an actress in The Colour Purple who lost her part after some old anti-gay posts on Facebook were dug up. I took an interest at the time because this was potentially a freedom of speech issue. At the time, I accepted that Leicester Curve probably had no choice but to let her go – if you are producing a play that preaches a very pro-tolerance and anti-discrimination message, it would have been political and commercial suicide to have a key performer on record as advocating the opposite (at least on the subject of homosexuality). However, getting dropped by her agency was dubious. I hardly need point out why it’s not a good thing if agencies having the power to terminate the career of anyone caught holding an unpopular opinion.
But this latest move to sue the theatre and her former agents has lost her the small amount of sympathy I had. If she had sued over the practice of getting people fired for old social media messages, I would have considered supporting it – I am not comfortable with setting a precedent that it’s okay to destroy someone’s career by making public a view that they were keeping to themselves and not acting upon, however reprehensible those views were. She is not. She is suing because she claims it’s discrimination against Christians. That stands to set the precedent that it’s okay to express and act on any views you hold, however reprehensible those views are. All you have to do is justify your prejudices as something God told you to believe. What’s more, according to Omooba, Leicester Curve were prepared to keep her if she apologised and moved on. That to me looks like Leicester Curve went as far as they could to protect her from the outrage – but she instead doubled down as if this was proof she was hard done by. For the first time I can understand what might have made her agency drop her, instead of waiting until the hashtag hordes moved on: she was becoming a liability to everyone associated with her, and showed no intention to stopping being one.
Even so, I still feel some pity for her. The motives behind the original act of looking through someone’s social media posts in the hope of finding something career-ending remains extremely questionable, and this new development does not answer that question. But my main reason to feel pity is that it’s clear she’s been put up to this by Christian Concern, the organisation backing her case. This is a group that claims to stand up for the freedom to practice Christianity and for Christians to be treated with tolerance from others, but you don’t need to look far to notice that what they’re really after is taking away other people’s freedoms and treating them with intolerance. Religious discrimination isn’t the only way of frivolous claiming victimhood, but – and this applies to all religions, not just Christianity – this is the only one that actively uses this claim as an argument for their own preferred brands of discrimination and victimisation to be protected in law. The theatre world must close ranks and fight this, but we shouldn’t be mad at Seyi Omooba – we should be mad at the people who made her this way.
Goodbye to TESTT Space
Back to Durham now. One bit of interesting news is a new event called Durham Soup. The first event is in October, but I’ll wait for the first event to happen and I have a better idea what this is about before I report on it.
However, the big news from Durham since the last Odds and Sods is with the Empty Shop. There have been a lot of changes over the last three years. In 2017, they took on a new space, known as TESTT Space (where TESTT = The Empty Shop Think Tank), formely a large office space over the bus station. Then, last year, the announcement came that they were moving out of Empty Shop HQ, a space in the Milburngate Centre (now The Riverwalk) above a cafe – a surprise announcement, seeing as this had been around for so long it was almost viewed as synonymous with Empty Shop itself. Now the news has come that TESTT Space is going too.
This time, it’s not the Empty Shop’s choice to go but the landlord’s. The bus station and everything built above it was due to be demolished – that was how they were able to get hold of this disused office space in the first place. However, it was generally assumed that you’d need to build the new bus station first before you could think about knocking down the old one. Now the council have changed their mind and they’re going build a new bus station on the same site. I don’t understand how it’s possible to do that and keep the buses running myself, but it seems one inconvenient side-effect is that the lease is ending sooner rather than later.
However, although the timing of this news isn’t great, I’m quite relaxed about what this means for The Empty Shop. Losing the lease on your main venue can be perilous – something similar happened with Alphabetti Theatre three years ago, and had this happened six months earlier when they weren’t so financially secure, they may not have survived the transiation it to the successful venue they have today. However, the Empty Shop does this all the time – as Nick and Carlo point out, this is their 42nd of 55 spaces they’ve used so far. So whilst we don’t know what space 56 looks like or how this will effect the future of Empty Shop or the community build around it, I’m confident there will be one. We will just have to wait and see.
On the Milka advert
This is something I talked about during my Edinburgh Fringe coverage, but since it was buried in all things fringe, here’s a reprint so this can get the attention this deserves. In August there was uproar over the casting spec for a child in an ad for Milka. But whilst I see where the outrage is coming from, I feel this one of the cases where the underlying cause was ignored.
This ad on Spotlight was noticed by an eagle-eyed user who alerted the entire internet to it. It’s quite an achievement, but the casting spec was offensive in just about every way possible. Can’t have a fat girl because you’re advertising chocolate, no redheads because reasons, and must not be pre-pubescent. Errrm, okay. Unsurprisingly, when this came to light, the ad was swiftly taken down. Cue celebrations – but the underlying problem did not change, and that is is casting culture, or more specifically, casting culture in adverts.
Now, I could write at length about where I think the problems are in casting, and one day I probably will. There’s no end of stupid judgements made on appearance in the arts industry. But, for all their faults, nothing is anywhere near as bad as the advertising industry. The days when TV adverts gave actual reason to buy products are long gone. Instead, modern adverts work on a subliminal level. Why should I buy a new smartphone? More battery and disk space? Nope. According to basically every advert, people who buy the latest phone are cool and sassy and if you buy it you too will be cool and sassy and get to mix with the cool and sassy people. And in order to make this point, the advert requires cool and sassy people in the advert. And not just any old cool and sassy people, but exactly the right kind of cool and sassy, because this, along with everything else, is micromanaged by marketing executives in order to sell as much stuff as possible.
I strongly suspect that is the real reason why adverts pay so well. I don’t begrudge any actors for doing this – everyone’s got earn a living somehow – but it seems to me the real reason is not an act of charity on the part of advertisers, but so they get huge numbers of people to choose from and pick exactly who they want. And my other suspicion is that the spec seen in this advert is normal – it’s just that every else knows not to do it too obviously. Simply send out a vague spec, audition far and wide, and then pick based on what you’re really after, that need not bear any resemblance to what you said you wanted. Hair colour, age, weight, skin colour, perceived sexuality, whatever you like – how can anyone prove that’s what you based your casting on?
This is why I think getting Spotlight to withdraw one advert is a red herring. One would like to think that this would be a lesson to advertisers that you can’t have those casting requirements nowadays. It’s more likely that advertisers will take this as a lesson to not put this out on a Spotlight advert. I think we can safely bet that Christmas Milka ad featuring non-overweight non-redhead pre-pubescent girl is off, but it they’d kept that under the radar I have no doubt this would have gone ahead. In which case, how much else is going on under the radar? I’ve no idea what the answer is though. It’s very difficult to make people change their ways if they think it’ll cost them money. You might if you could somehow persuade them that stupid appearance-based casting doesn’t sell more, but that looks like a long shot. The first step, however, is to recognise this casting call as a symptom of a much wider problem and not just an individual problem that’s solved. Fail to realise this, and the chance of anything changing is zero.
Clear White Light sells out again
Moving one stop north, and the most interesting development from Newcastle theatre scene is the continuing success of Clear White Light. As I’ve previously reported, Joe Douglas’s first two performances for the main stage sold out virtually their entire runs. The first one, Clear White Light, has now come back for a second run. There is already one thing out of the ordinary here – whilst it is not uncommon for Live Theatre plays to sell out and come back for re-runs, it is rare for someone to score two in a row. Now an even rarer thing has happened – the second run of Clear White Light has sold out too. That’s unprecedented. Someone who has better stats can correct me if I’m wrong here, this may well be Live’s most successful production since The Pitman Painters. I’m going to stop short of tipping Clear White Light to be the next Pitman Painters – I suspect the key attraction of the music of Lindisfarne might not have so much draw outside the north-east. There again, it would have been easy to dismiss the prospects of a group of Ashington miners as only appealing to local interest, and we know what happened there.
Amongst all of the champagne corks popping, however, I will float a counter-argument. Much as returning a successful play looks good for Live, in general a returning play forms the centrepiece of the whole season, where there would otherwise be a new main production. The means, roughly speaking, every encore comes at the expense of an opportunity for another new play. Which wasn’t a big deal when only the occasional play made a return, but what if this becomes the norm? Will the long-standing model of one main production per season need to be rethought? Still a long way to go before we establish this is the new normal – two smash hits in a row doesn’t guarantee a third, let alone a fourth or fifth – but it might, and interesting times lying ahead whatever the outcome.
The future of Northern Broadsides – old and new
The other big change of leadership I’ve been following is that of Northern Broadsides. Founder and long-time artistic director Barrie Rutter stood down last year, and his unofficial deputy Conrad Nelson took over for a 12-month interim period. When applications opened for the permanent replacement, everyone assumed he had it in the bag, but instead the shock news broke that not only was he not continuing in the post as Artistic Director, but also that he was leaving the company completely. I should repeat at this point I have no reason to believe he was pushed – it genuinely does look like like he and his wife and long-standing collaborator Deborah McAndrew decided it was time for a change. More on that in a moment.
But first: what does this mean for Northern Broadsides? Laurie Samson got the job of Artistic Director, and as a former Artistic Director of both the National Theatre of Scotland and Royal and Derngate, which was a huge vote of confidence for the Broadsiders. I’ve only seen one play of his myself, which was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the Edinburgh Fringe, which was excellent, and now, his first Northern Broadsides play has been announced: Quality Street. If you haven’t heard of this – and this hasn’t been performed much since the second world war – this is a Napoleonic comedy romance from J M Barrie written before his most famous book, Peter Pan. In case you’re wondering – yes, this the where the famous chocolates got their name. In fact, there is a collaboration going on between Northern Broadsides and the workers in the Halifax factory that makes the stuff. Although I know little about this play, my hunch is that the style he brought to Jean Brodie would go well here.
One small but notable detail is that, for the first time since God knows when, Northern Broadsides are coming to the North East (or as we round here like to call it, the proper north). I don’t know why it’s taken so long for a north-east theatre to take them on given their huge success in Yorkshire and Lancashire, but better late than never.
But the more interesting new project is from Nelson and McAndrew. They’ve been running a parallel Stoke-based theatre company called Claybody Theatre, which is now getting their undivided attention, and when they left there was an early announcement of a new Deborah McAndrew play that Conrad Nelson would direct. But instead of another reimagining of a classic story that made them into the respected figures they are today, instead it’s a play of very local interest: The D Road, about the dual carriageway that was built through the middle of Stoke and the effect this had on the Six Towns. (I only know so much about the road myself as my sister live there.) It seems that when Nelson and McAndrew said time for a change, it wasn’t just a change of theatre company, it’s a change of everything. This is of very local interest, but they’ve got Hugo Michael in thier cast who’s been in just about every Northern Broadside production of theirs. So expect Nelson and McAndrew to be off the national radar in the short term, but probably not for that long.
My verdict on Treegate
Finally, I’ve promised that I would have a look at this controversy over Tree, a headlining play at Manchester International Festival that grabbed everybody’s attention for the wrong reason. If you’ve somehow managed to let this one pass you by, the row here is that two writers allege in a blog post that they developed an idea with Idris Elba for a play, and the Young Vic got involved, only for artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah to announce that he and Elba were now creating a different play that was stealing their idea. The Young Vic’s side of the story is that they weren’t stealing anyone’s work, and instead they were developing a completely new concept based on Elba’s original idea.
Compared to some of the veryveryworstpractices I’ve covered on this blog, the Young Vic’s response is a little better. A lot of the points of disagreement are one person’s word against another’s. Tori and Sarah claim the Young Vic threatened them with legal action, the Young Vic claims the opposite, but with neither side showing supporting evidence I’ll have to draw a blank. Some of their arguments are weaker – their claim that an agreement with the Duchess Theatre doesn’t apply to the Young Vic might be legally right, but it’s hardly a argument for being morally right. But the main problem with the Young Vic’s side of the story is that it requires believing some not-so-plausible sequences of events. If we are to take their word for it, this requires accepting that Idris had an idea for a story, then he and Tori and Sarah developed it for years, called Tree, and the suddenly Idris came up with a completely different way of expressing his original idea, also called Tree but otherwise not in any way shaped by his two former collaborators. Really? It also requires us believing that when Kwame Kwei-Armah said he was writing a first draft, which he accepts he wrote but apparently had no intention of writing: its sole purpose apparently a “catalyst for debate” to “help shape the future of the narrative”, whatever that means. I have to say, for me the most plausible chain of events was that Kwame Kwei-Armah wanted to turn their play into his play – and when the writers wouldn’t play ball, Idris Elba claim of coming up with a new story based on his original idea gave him the excuse he needed.
I will concede that I would have to sit down and read the two scripts side-by-side before accusing the Young Vic of stealing other people’s ideas. However, even if I ended up deciding there wasn’t enough evidence, it’s still not good enough. Why? Because the Kwame Kwei-Armah and the Young Vic are in a position of power, as is Manchester International Festival. And I firmly believe that when you are in a position of power, the onus is on you to show you are using your power responsibly. I expect better than vague counter-claims amounting to little more than “you can’t prove anything”. If you are going to take one third of a collaborative partnership and claim that a new play based on an original concept is completely different from another play based on the same concept, you need a damned good argument to back up your claims. And on this occasion Kwame Kwei-Armah forfeited that chance when he started off working with Tori and Sarah and later dropped them without any real explanation.
The only thing I can say in the Young Vic’s defence at the moment is I can’t see anything in Tori and Sarah’s story that backs up the theory that there were treated the way they were specifically because they were women. They might have been, but you’d need a pattern of behaviour to support that claim, and even with one it’s a difficult claim to prove. It’s also difficult claim to disprove – but even if the Young Vic somehow exonerated themselves of that allegation, it’s a poor consolation. All that would demonstrate is that 100% of aspiring writers need to watch their back at the Young Vic instead of only 50%. Unless the Young Vic can come up with a far better explanation than the one they’re currently giving us, the take-home message here is surely to never let the Young Vic or Kwame Kwei-Armah near anything of yours that you wouldn’t them to rip off. And maybe think twice before collaborating with an agreement made on a handshake.
Stuff I wrote since June
Since my last odds and sods, here’s what’s kept me in/out of mischief (delete as applicable):
Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – as it happens: My month-long coverage, featuring reviews of all the Edinburgh Fringe shows I saw. Sorry I’m slow indexing this, let alone writing it up – in the meantime, Ctrl-F is your friend.