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

Advertisements

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

IMG_5578.JPG

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

What’s worth watching: spring/summer 2018

Skip to: Birdsong, Tom and Bunny Save the World, The 39 Steps, War of the Worlds, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Rattle Snake, Naked Hope, Joking Apart / Better Off Dead, Krapp’s Last Tape / Footfalls

Although this has been passing me by, what with with a very intense week taking over my life, theatre has been going on back home. And with the last of my winter/spring recommendations out of the way, it’s time for spring summer.

I don’t think I’ve said this for some time, but I’ll give a reminder that all of these “what’s worth watching” articles should be considered a cross-section of what’s out there, not an exhaustive list. I do not actively go out looking for the best plays to see, because anything that is already getting acclamation doesn’t need an extra shoutout from me, but anything I do see, from touring West End to the tiddliest amateurs, can end up in this list if it’s good and original. Let’s go:

Safe choices:

Explanation of all categories is here in my recommendations policy. Safe choices are either plays I’ve seen before (all four picks this time), or groups I’ve seen before with plays I’m confident will be good. No play will appeal to everyone, and you should always read the description before deciding if the play’s for you, but safe choices are expected to have wide appeal. This time, they are:

Birdsong

I don’t always recommend major touring shows every time they return to the region – I don’t want the little plays swamped by the big ones – but Birdsong gets a mention as one of the biggest success stories of the last few years. When Rachel Wagstaff embarked on a project to bring Sebastian Faulks’s novel to the stage, many people thought this wasn’t possible – even Sebastian Faulks himself thought it was “bonkers” to try. But try she did, and the rest is history. Continue reading

Interview with Jake Murray: on Jesus Hopped the A Train and Eylsium Theatre

jesus-hopped-faz-v-danny-4-696x464

A completely new feature for this blog: I have an interview. Next week, Jesus Hopped the A Train begins in Durham and continues in Manchester, but what is most notable is the theatre company behind it. It has been ages since Durham has had a theatre company based in the city at professional level, and there are a lot of plans for the future. I caught up with Jake Murray after a rehearsal to ask about the play and beyond.

Fine print: This was a proper interview and not just a series of questions for an interviewee to fill in. This was recorded, types up, and a few minor edits were made to read better, but I didn’t need to make many changes and this is near-verbatim. The broad structure of the interview was agreed in advance. At some point I was probably write up the rules properly, but in the meantime, this is this as more David Frost than Jeremy Paxman.

I have with me Jake Murray of Elysium Theatre, who has just completed a rehearsal of Jesus Hopped the A Train, which is coming to the Assembly Rooms on Monday. We’ll be talking about this in the moment, but if we start from the beginning, Jake, bring us up to date of Theatre Elysium and what it has done so far.

Elysium Theatre Company is a company I set up with an actor friend, Danny Solomon. Basically, I came up to Durham a year or so ago, because I fell in love and got married and decided I wanted to bring theatre to the north, and the first person I spoke to was my Danny Solomon who lives in my flat in Manchester from my time there. The goal is to bring theatre to Durham and the north-east, but also the wider north, and we seem to be going great guns.

Our first production, Days of Wine and Roses, played at the Assembly Rooms in Durham last and then Theatre 53 two in Manchester, where it got nominated for a Manchester Theatre Award and got great reviews, but up here and over there. And the next play is Jesus Hopped the A Train, which is the northern premiere of an extraodinary play from America. It’s never been seen outside of London, and again we’re playing it at the Assembly Rooms then we’re playing it at Home in Manchester. After that, we’ve got a double-bill of Samuel Beckett plays, which is part of Durham Festival of the Arts, and we’re just in negotiations now for the rights to Jez Butterworth’s The River, which we’re going to be doing in Durham next year, and we’re talking to Durham Student Theatre about doing Miss Julie, also in Durham for 2019. So we’ve got loads in the pipeline. Continue reading

What’s worth watching: Brighton Fringe 2018

spiegel_pub-1050x650

SKIP TO: The Jurassic Parks, Police Cops in Space, Rope, Neverwant, Last Night at the Circus, Whaddya Know, We’re in Love, Larkin Descending, Always, with a Love that’s True, The Wind in the Willows, Elsa, Myra, Gone, A Year Without Summer, Susan Harrison is a Bit Weepy, The Owl and the Pussycat, Doktor James’s Bad Skemes, Beasts, Imaginary Porno Charades, Notflix, Groomed

And here we go. Time to start festival fringe coverage for 2018. Anyone who was itching for something like the Edinburgh Fringe had the Vault Festival to tide them over, but that is curated by the organisers. This time (and again in July and August), no such power exists. Anyone can be part of this festival, and whilst you can get various leg-ups from venues, the media or the Fringe Committee itself, the ultimate power lies with the audience. They decide who the biggest successes shall be.

The last two Brighton Fringes oversaw unprecedented expansion and a lot of changes that came with it. This year, however, there’s few changes. Sweet Venues has ditched Sweet Waterfront and instead taken Sweet Werks, the Old Courtroom has reappeared as a fringe venue, but other than that it’s really a consolidation of the growth in 2015-2016.

But you already knew that, didn’t you? You want me to get on with my list of picks? As you wish. Let us begin. Continue reading

What’s worth watching: winter/spring 2018

Okay, here we go again. Hope you all made the most of your month off theatre (two if you’re allergic to pantomimes). But February is coming, and with this another season of recommendations. As always, the rules for how I choose recommendations are here. Just a reminder that I rarely recommend a play solely because it’s being produced by a high-profile company – normally it will be on the strength of a writer, director, or performing company I’ve seen before. But that way, this means the little fish stand a fair chance against the big fish.

One notable omission is it stands it Live Theatre. For some reason, they still haven’t announced all of their next season. As soon as I hear what they’re doing, I will insert anything worth including. Continue reading