What’s worth watching: spring/summer 2019

Skip to: A Thousand Splendid Suns, Educating Rita, Season’s Greetings, The Importance of Being Earnest, Be More Martyn, Ask Me Anything, And She, Naked Hope, The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil, Stepping Out

And whilst I have been finishing of my Brighton Fringe coverage, summer has crept up on me, although it is still spring if you’re using the definition based on solstices and equinoxes, so there. This time of year is quieter than the rest of the year as a lot of theatre companies wind down and turn attention to fringes, but not everything stops and these are the things I have for you.

As always, the rules of what goes into recommendations can be found here.

Safe choice

To begin with, four choices from companies I’ve seen before and rated their work. No play appeal to everybody, but if you like the sound of what I’ve written, and what they’ve written, you can be as confident as can be you’ll can be.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

The most high-profile play on this list is https://www.expressandstar.com/resizer/1poSMJdAa390LgsPYy1wD3IoVc8=/990x0/filters:quality(100)/arc-anglerfish-arc2-prod-expressandstar-mna.s3.amazonaws.com/public/6HOJZXV52ZCGRJBPTUAM5BX2SA.jpgNorthern Stage’s headline play this season. This is a stage adaptation of two very famous books written by Khaled Hosseini. Although I haven’t read either of the books, I saw the film version of The Kite Runner, which was excellent. Both stories are set in Afghanistan before and after the rise of the Taleban, and in The Kite Runner it followed the story of a boy who is forced to flee with his father leaving behind his best friend. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, the focus is on women in Afghanistan. No-one needs reminding of the deal that women had under Taleban rule, but this story is about more than, promising strength and unity in the darkest hour. Continue reading

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What’s worth watching: Brighton Fringe 2019

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Credit: Heather Buckley

Damn it. Fringe season has come around again and I still haven’t finished feeling knackered from the last fringe season. But time waits for no man or theatre blogger and I’d better get a move on with my coverage. So let’s start at the beginning. The first fringe coming up is Brighton, and my first bit of coverage is my list of what’s worth seeing.

A reminder of how this works firstly. There are round about a thousand different listings in the Brighton Fringe programme. Even if I ignore everything outside of the theatre section of the programme, I cannot possibly be familiar with more than a fraction of what’s on offer. I could of course analyse the reviews to get a sense of what’s the best that Brighton Fringe has to offer, but I want to offer something different. Shows with lots of good reviews already have publicity – I prefer to focus on things I’ve seen for myself, whether or not they’ve had praise elsewhere. So once again a reminder: this should be treated as a cross-section of what’s worth seeing at the Brighton Fringe rather than a comprehensive list. Continue reading

What’s worth watching: winter/spring 2019

Skip to: Sherlock Holmes, No Miracles Here, Bouncers, Noughts and Crosses, Two2, Trainspotting, Teechers, Rain Man, Bacon Knees and Sausage Fingers, Wonderland, Approaching Empty, Miss Julie, Educating Rita

It’s January, it’s cold, and it’s the second month on my enforced two-month break. Last week, I did my first ever preview of what’s grabbed by attention at the Vault Festival, a list previously short enough to be a bolt-on to the end of this list. But theatre is going on in the north-east too, so let’s go through the things that caught my eye in the months leading to May.

Safe choices:

You know the rules now, don’t you? If not, they’re here. The plays, like all plays in these recommendations, are only ever recommended if the description of the play appeal to you. But if you do, I’m confident you will like these. Some are plays I’ve seen before and loved; others are from theatre companies, writers or directors with a strong enough track record between them for me to make a firm call. So let’s get going.

Sherlock Holmes: the sign of four

https://i1.wp.com/www.blackeyedtheatre.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/photo-gallery/Sign%20of%20Four%20Press%20Image%204%20WEB.jpgThe first recommendation comes from one of my main surprise discoveries of 2018: Nick Lane. Blackeyed Theatre had already made a name for themselves with two excellent gothic adaptations from writer John Ginman and director Eliot Giuralarocca – and then came a third gothic adaptation, but this was from a new name to Blackeyed fans: Nick Lane, both writer and director. Could The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde live up its predecessors? The answer, it turned out, was yes. This was also outstanding;  the style was different to the two Ginman/Giuralarocca plays, but it was still a great adaptation and – most impressively – it introduced a new major character and made it look like that was how the story was written all along. It’s fair to point out that Blackeyed’s production wasn’t the first production of this adaptation – it had already earned a lot of praise from two previous productions – but Blackeyed Theatre was the first company to take it on a tour of this size, introducing it to the rest of the country. Continue reading

What’s worth watching: Vault Festival 2019

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SKIP TO: April, Auntie, Police Cops
A new thing for the blog. I’ve been doing recommendations for Buxton, Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes as long as I’ve been doing this blog, but the Vault Festival (not a fringe as it isn’t open-access, but the closest thing you’ll find to one until sprint comes round) I’ve always done as a footnote for my general winter/spring recommendations. That’s not because I’m giving the Vault a lesser status, but because, up to now, there were very few acts I recognised. But this time, my knowledge of what’s there is big enough to do an article in its own right.

And it’s not, I might add, based on who I’ve seen in previous Vault festivals. I’d heard of a couple of them from the Vault Festival first, but all of these artists I’ve previously seen in Buxton, Brighton or Edinburgh Fringes. Most of the artists in the Vault line-up I’ve never heard of so, as always, please treated this as a cross-section of what’s worth seeing rather than a comprehensive list. But a recommendation of something I’ve seen is not automatic – if it’s in this list, it’s in for a reason.

Safe choice:

Normally, to get into safe choice – meaning something that I’m confident anyone who likes the description will enjoy, and has a wide appeal – a play either has to be one I’ve seen before and loved, or a group doing something new with a strong track record. This time, however, we have two entries in Safe Choice from solo performers I’ve only seen once before, but they are playing to their strengths so much I’m prepared to go with a safe bet.

April

xm2ev12i_400x400I should declare a bias here. Part of the reason I loved Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons so much was how much it appealed to my anti-censorship sentiments. A long-standing tactic of censorship is to paint the thing that offends your moral purity as harmful, and make sure there’s enough public hysteria to prevent anyone actually watching/seeing/reading/play it themselves and making up their own mind. In the 1980s, one popular target was Dungeons and Dragons. Carrie Marx played Pam, a Christian busybody who’s so obviously only done cursory research and didn’t properly understand what she was talking about. But this play appealed on many levels and if you don’t relate to being on the receiving end of these scare campaigns, you might relate instead to Pam’s quietly tragic quest to find a purpose in her life. Continue reading

What’s worth watching: autumn/winter 2018

We’re the other side of the fringe bubble and, eek, autumn has already started, and with that, autumn theatre. So, as always, I’ve gone through the listings of local theatres to pick out the things that are getting my attention. For anyone who want to know how this works, you can read my Recommendations policy.

Skip to: Build a Rocket, Two, They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!, The Lovely Bones, War of the Worlds, Ventoux, Wicked, The Turk, Clear White Light, Joking Apart / Better Off Dead, Two Pints, Under Milk Wood, Sherlock Holmes, Bin and Gone, Boys, Vivian’s Music, 1969

But let’s not waste time. You know the rules, you know how it works, so let’s begin.

Safe choice:

Top of the list are plays where I’m making a firm call. Most of these plays are ones I’ve seen already – where they are new, they are from writers and directors with a good enough track record to give me full confidence in their new offerings. All of these plays also have wide audience appeal. That’s not the same as appealing to everyone – few plays do – but if you like the sound of the description, then I’m confident you can’t go wrong with these.

Build a Rocket

maxresdefaultIn what I believe is a first for the Stephen Joseph Theatre, they took a solo play to the Edinburgh Fringe, starring Serene Manteghi, last seen in Scarborough in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, albeit a very different role from LV. Here she plays Yasmin, a 16-year-old who finds herself pregnant after an ill-advised affair with a lecherous local DJ. But, in common with the last play Paul Robinson toured before taking over as Artistic Director at Scarborough, this is a story that only properly begins where most plays would have ended. What at one point seems to be a play about losing everything is actually about pick up after this happens.

Apart from a few criticisms about being “poverty porn” (unfair and misguided, in my opinion), this had a very successful run at Edinburgh. As well as the successful run, it’s a triumph for the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s drive to support local writing, with Scarborough-based Christopher York’s script combined with Paul Robinson’s directing to give an energetic performance. But it would be unthinkable for the SJT to run at Edinburgh without a chance to see it back home, so it is running  now at the Stephen Joseph Theatre until 8th September. London readers: there is a Pleasance London run on the 18th-23rd September. I’m told the Scarborough version, and presumbly the London version too, has an extra 15 minutes of material. Continue reading

What’s worth watching: Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Edinburgh Fringe Festival Program Launch

Skip to: The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show, The Turn of the Screw, Hunch, The Unknown Soldier, Police Cops / Police Cops in Space, Neverwant, Yen, Build a Rocket, Gratiano / The Straw Man, Proxy, Faulty Towers / The Wedding Reception, Antigone na h’Eireann, One-Woman Alien, You All Know Me, I’m Jack Ruby, Elsa, Year Without Summer, Kin

Aaagh. The big fringe has already started. Not just previews, fringe proper. I’d better get a move on.

Won’t do much of a preamble, because most of you know the rules by now. In the biggest Edinburgh Fringe ever by a notable margin, there are around 3,500 shows in the programme. I only know a fraction of these, so my recommendations should be considered a cross-section of what’s worth seeing. To keep the list down to a manageable size, I am pickier than I am at other fringes. The one thing you won’t see here are shows I’ve previously seen but wasn’t that enthusiastic about. If I didn’t love your show last time, it’s only fair to wipe the slate clean and start again.

For anyone who wants to know the detailed rules, you can go to my recommendations policy. Unless otherwise noted, all entries here run the full length of the fringe. Without further ado, let’s go:

Safe choice:

These six plays are either plays I’ve seen before and loved, or new plays from companies whose previous work I loved, where the new work plays to their strength. All these entries also have wide appeal. No play is recommended for everybody – if you don’t like that kind of play, you probably won’t feel differently about these – but if you like the sound of it based on what they say about it and what I say about it, I’m calling these as surefire bets that you’ll like them the way I did. We have got …

The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show

03-13-2018-192729-2897This is one of my perennial entries in the Edinburgh Fringe, but it was a pleasure to follow this group from the beginning. Their sets of 10-minutes plays, five per hour-long performance, started off in an oscure upper room at Roman Eagle Lodge – now it is one of the most popular fixtures in Pleasance’s programme. Good ten-minute plays are hard to find – too often they feel like awkward fragments of stories that don’t go anywhere – but Bite-Size always manages to find the good ones.

Part of their success, I believe, is Nick Brice’s ability to use the ten-minute length as an asset rather than a hindrance. It’s certainly true that you are limited with what you can tell as a story in ten minutes, but this length of time also allows you stories to explore all sorts of weird and wonderful ideas that would wear thin if the play ran any longer. And whilst you camn’t expect every play to be every cup of tea, if you see one that doesn’t appeal to you, another one will be on its way soon. Usual time, usual place, it’s at Pleasance Dome at 10.30 a.m. (not 14th or 21st) – and I strongly advise booking early as this is known to sell out days in advance. No lunchtime show of greatest hits this time, but there is another bolder lunchtime show. More on that shortly Continue reading

What’s worth watching: Buxton Fringe 2018

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SKIP TO: The Unknown Soldier, Gated Community, Behind the Agony, A Curse of Saints, Extremism, Antigone Na H’Éireann, Sea Wall / The Shape of Things, Trapped, Earthling, I let a six-year-old write my show, Disgusting songs for revolting children

All right, Sam Slide, you can stop pestering me. I’ve allowed a bit of a backlog to build up again as a result of doing two plays at once, but I haven’t forgotten Buxton Fringe. As always, my list of what I recommend seeing. As the smallest of the three fringes I cover, this is a more comprehensive list than usual – at Brighton or Edinburgh, I’ve only heard of a fraction of the acts, but in Buxton I at least recognise the names of many of the groups, even if I haven’t seen them before. But even so, the usual disclaimer applies – this list should be seen as a cross-section of what’s worth seeing, not a complete list. As always, anyone who wants to see the full rules governing what goes in can come this way.

Last year’s Buxton Fringe was a very significant one for two reasons: Underground Venues relocated from the Old Hall to the Old Clubhouse, and the brand-new Rotunda set up in the Pavillion gardens. This year, however, there’s not much change in the headline figures. Fringe-wide numbers are about the same, numbers at Underground Venues and Rotunda are slightly up. However, it’s not quite a “no change” fringe and within these static numbers there’s a fair bit of difference. Last year, the Rotunda’s programme was dominated by shows produced, or at least backed, by Grist To The Mill themselves; but this time, it’s a far more diverse programme – a result, presumably, of the Rotunda advertising for applications much further in advance. Underground Venues, meanwhile, appear to have more entry-level acts this year – again, this might be down to the early addition of the Rotunda balancing up supply and demand on the managed venues. Whatever the reason, I am now less concerned over losing Buxton as a suitable starting fringe than I was last year. Continue reading