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

Advertisements

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

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

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

What’s worth watching: Edinburgh Fringe 2017

fringe-chris-scott

Skip to: Bite Size, Call Mr. Robeson, The Jurassic Parks, Police Cops in Space, Replay, Izzy’s Manifestoes, The Friday Night Effect, Gratiano, The House, Mars Actually, No Miracles Here, The Empress and Me, Labels, Your Ever Loving, Give Me Your Love, The Writers’ Room, You, Me and Everything Else, Boris and Sergey, Imaginary Porno Charades, The Dark Room, Doktor James’s Academy of Evil, Knightmare Live, Morgan and West, Murder’ She Didn’t Write, Notflix, The City, The Divide

Edinburgh fringe has already started, and I still haven’t written up these recommendations. Let’s get started then. Here’s a list of things coming up at Edinburgh which I can recommend seeing for various reasons. You can find the full rules for how I choose what to endorse in my Recommendations Policy, but the main thing to remember is that is a cross-sections of good plays, not an exhaustive list. In particular, for Edinburgh I have a rule that recommendations are only given to groups I’ve seen before. I’ve heard a lot of good things about other groups, but if I was to include them the list would get unmanageably long.

No major changes since previous fringes to report this time, so let’s get straight to it. All plays run the entire length of the fringe unless otherwise noted. Continue reading