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

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

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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

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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

Lumiere London 2018 preview

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Credit: UkPaolo

Tuh. Lumiere festivals are like buses. You wait ages for one to come along, then you get two at once. However, for non-obsessives who live in Durham or London, you get one festival every two years. Durham has just had its festival, now it’s London’s turn.

Lumiere London is possibly the greatest coup that County Durham culture has pulled off. Durham’s festival was already one of the most popular and most prestigious festivals over the whole of the north-east, now it has been exported to London and proved a hit there too. In fact, if there was anything at all to fault of Lumiere London, it’s that it was too popular, with more people coming to see it than anyone had expected.

So, as usual, here’s my preview based on what I’ve previously seen in Durham. I cannot give the lowdown on every single installation coming to London’s way – most of them are things that are completely new to Lumiere – but a lot of them have been to Lumiere Durham before. This is where I can lend my expertise. Continue reading

Lumiere Durham 2017 preview

Light benches

Skip to recommendations

And here we are again. Another two years, another Lumiere. Only this time, I need to start calling this Lumiere Durham to distinguish it from the other Lumieres. Yes, in 2016, there was the launch of Lumiere London which was a great success. In fact, the only problem was that the festival was, if anything, too popular, with crowds sometimes too big to handle. There were doubts that Lumiere London could return, but it is, January.

However, at the risk of showing bias, Lumiere Durham remains the original and best. A light festival in a big city is all very well, but nothing beats a festival where the whole city is part of the festival. So without further ado, let’s have a look at what to expect. Continue reading

What’s worth watching: autumn/winter 2017

Oh heck, is it September already? Okay, let’s get a move on, because autumn and winter tends to be my busiest season for plays that catch my eye. As always, a reminder that this should be treated as a cross-section of what’s worth seeing rather than a definitive and exhaustive list. There are always some excellent plays going on that don’t make it to this list simply because I don’t know enough about them. Check my recommendations policy if you want a longer explanation for how this works.

Right, let’s get straight to it.

Safe choices:

Four plays make it to safe choice this time. A lot of them are plays that I saw before and loved, but plays can also make it to this list on the strength of the script or the performer if I’ve heard enough. Whatever the reason, these are plays that I’m confident you will like if you like the sound of the description of the play, and is also expected to have wide appeal. They are:

Taking Steps

https://newimages.bwwstatic.com/upload11/1646897/tn-500_9takingsteps,writtenanddirectedbyalanayckbourn,inrepatthestephenjosephtheatre,scarborough,from13julyto5oct,fromleft,russelldixon(roland),antonyeden(tristram),laurencepears(mark).jpgThis was previously recommended in my spring/summer recommendations, but this is a play on a long run stretching into autumn, so in it goes again. To repeat this quickly, Taking Steps is unusual for an Ayckbourn play in that it’s one of the few plays of his that really only works when staged in The Round – this one being three storeys of a house all playing on the same level on the stage – so if you only see one production of this play, see this one. Just don’t expect this to be a light-hearted undemanding Ayckbourn farce, because that does exist. It runs until 5th October on various dates at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

The Wipers Times

https://www.bestoftheatre.co.uk/images/shows/production/resized/580x390/6084-1490695551-dan-tetsell-and-james-dutton-the-wipers-times-photograph-by-alastair-muir.jpgIn general I don’t pay much attention to touring shows that have already had a decent West End run, because they get more than enough attention without my help, but I had to include this play about the satirical magazine said to be the forerunner to Private Eye. At least, that’s what Ian Hislop thinks, having penned the play with co-writer Nick Newman. With World War One possibly the lowest point in British history for freedom of the press, especially on the front line of the trenches, this sort of rag couldn’t have been popular with all the top brass in the military. Or it could have been argued as morale booster for men badly needing camaraderie to get through the war. It seems that argument won, as the magazine lasted until the end of the war with two final issues called “The Better Times”. Continue reading