What’s worth watching: Vault Festival 2020

image

Skip to: And She, Ask Me Anything, The Future is Mental, Badass Be Thy Name, Skank, 39 Degrees

I know I already have two unfinished articles on the go, but I’ve got to hury out this one because the Vault Festival has begun. And now that I know enough about who’s coming to pick some recommendations, I’d better get a move on before they’re gone.

First, a reminder of what the Vault Festival is about. It is, as some people acclaim, London’s answer to the Edinburgh Fringe? Well, yes and no. It is true that the work on offer in the Vault Festival is quite similar to what you see on the Fringe circuit – indeed, a lot of stuff goes to both – but unlike the Fringe, it’s a curated festival instead of an open festival. And, in all fairness, it’s couldn’t work as anything but an open festival, with applications outstripping capacity something like 6:1. It you’re after an environment where anyone can put on a play and you can choose what you want to see, it’s better to think of the whole of London throughout the year as the “London Fringe”. But if you’re after the festival atmosphere, the Vault Festival is the closest thing you’ll find in the winter months.

For anyone coming to the Vault for the first time, apart from understanding what kind of festival this is, there’s only two things you need to know. Firstly, it’s an evening-only festival on weekdays (not surprising as the bulk of the audience will be coming from work) running Wednesday-Sunday. Secondly, you think Edinburgh Fringe tickets are expensive? Welcome to London. Rest of it you’ll pick up as you go along. For Vault Festival veterans, the biggest change I’ve noticed this year is that they’ve moving away from classifying everything as theatre, comedy or lates and instead adapting a wider list of categories like the fringes to. There should be no more shoehorning of musicals and spoken word into theatre or comedy.

Big disclaimer: this is not a comprehensive list of what to see, just the ones that I know about. This caveat applies to all fringes but especially applies to the Vault Festival, where I’ve only heard of a small fraction of the acts that are on there. I’m also leaving out perennial comedy returners (Dark Room, Notflix and the MMORPG show) as they have more than enough publicity. Other than that, this is a single list. Some I wholeheartedly recommend seeing, others I don’t know much about but I consider notable. So this year it turns out I’ve quite a northern-heavy list.

(All events are in the Vaults itself unless otherwise noted.)

And She

https://static.wixstatic.com/media/2518f1_893db14ee33e48c2bbaf5e7e6d6714ee~mv2_d_3261_2163_s_2.jpg/v1/crop/x_0,y_266,w_3261,h_1891/fill/w_947,h_546,al_c,q_85,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/and%20she%20portrait%20full%20size%20(website).webpOne of the big news stories from the north-east is Northern Stage’s “takeover” of Vault. I reported on this back in December, and (depending on what the new artistic director of Northern Stage chooses to pursue) may replace the Edinburgh Fringe as their preferred presence. But right now I’m only interested in reporting which of these is worth seeing, and the easy pick from here is Bonnie and the Bonnettes. “Bonnie” is the stage name of Cameron Sharp, and their first play, Drag Me To Love, was his story of moonlighting in Doncaster when he was fourteen. The story was mostly told in a very funny way, and the ending was unexpectedly poignant.

However, they are bringing their follow-up play to the Vault: And She, a play about their mothers. I haven’t managed to see this yet so I don’t know how this compares to their debut, but Northern Stage clearly thought highly enough of this one to pick it over their successful first play. Whatever is in store, Bonnie and the Bonnettes is one of the most memorable acts in the north-east, with the ensemble of three all bringing individual characters to the fore. This is on the 8th & 9th February at 6.10 p.m.

Ask Me Anything

https://www.thepaperbirds.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/093-DSC_3341.jpgNorthern Stage isn’t the only Newcastle Theatre turning their attention south instead of north. Live Theatre’s co-production with The Paper Birds is also heading London’s way as part of its tour. The Paper Birds have toured many productions before, but by far the most memorable one was Mobile, a piece of verbatim theatre done inside a caravan with some amazing staging.

Ask Me Anything is just as ambitious, but in a different way. The group asked teenagers from all over the country to write in with questions they have about anything. This means the play has to cater to two very different audiences: teenagers wanting to prepare for the less predictable world of adulthood, and the rest of us who see how things have, or have not, changed for teenagers. It’s currently running at Live Theatre, and I haven’t seen it yet, but I saw the preview last summer that was promising. It’s at it s strongest, however, when they do their innovative staging, and not just making up stage plus auditorium to look like a teenager’s bedroom. See this on 7.15 p.m. on the 11th – 15th February.

The Future is Mental

Thttps://www.networktheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/The-Future-is-Mental-620x402.jpghis one is on my list as something that is interesting and different. When the Vault Festival expanded out of the space under Waterloo station, one venue they took on was the Network Theatre, a nearby amateur theatre. As part of the bargain, they get a slot of their own in the festival. Far from the village hall production from Hot Fuzz, Network Theatre put up a good standard against the professionally-trained actors that dominate the festival. The one thing that does stand out is that their plays are relatively safe compared to what you usually see here. And I like that – in a festival where so many people are scrabbling to be the next best thing with something innovative and different from everyone else, it’s a refreshing change to have a group that stays conventional.

It’s not entirely in the comfort zone – Network Theatre still take on new writing of their own here, and this one is a collection of short-stories set in the near future, drawing, we are told, on Black Mirror, Margaret Attwood and Killing Eve. This shows on the 18th – 23rd February at 7.45 p.m. in the Network Theatre.

Police Cops: Badass Be Thy Name

https://thetheatretimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/BadassBeThyName-1250x625.jpg

The Pretend Men had an unexpected hit in 2015 with Police Cops, a parody of basically every 1970s TV cop show ever made. It’s almost like they sat down with a list of every cop show cliche ever used and worked it in into one hour, with a highly energetic show that earned them praise and sell-out Edinburgh Fringe runs. This was followed up with Police Cops in Space, a parody of basically every 1970s TV sci-fi show ever made, which is almost like they sat down with a list of every sci-fi show cliche ever etc. etc. But where do you go from there? There is a downside to the smash hit. Keep going with the same and eventually your audience tires of it. But do something too different and you lose the thing that built your following in the first place.

Well, they’ve gone for a mashup in what seems to be the format of Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights. But instead of our kick-ass martial arts hero teaming up with a cowboy or a knight, he’s apparently teaming up with a rave-loving dude from Madchester. I’m not suer the timeline quite matches up here, but to be fair, neither did the Jackie Chan films. I didn’t manage to see this at Edinburgh but the reaction was very positive. They’ve just finihsed a run at Soho Theatre, but you can catch them again on the 18th – 21st March at 9.15 p.m.

Skank

Nhttps://btg.ams3.cdn.digitaloceanspaces.com/images/50428/original/Skank_2.jpgow for another play I’ve not seen but I’ve heard a lot about. Skank is on my list because this is a showcase of what we may be seeing a lot more of in the future: the rapidly rising fringe theatre scene in Manchester. In the last few years, Manchester has become noted for both a year-round fringe theatre scene similar to London’s, and an open festival fringe similar to Edinburgh/Brighton/Buxton/etc. So get used to this – we can expect Manchester to have a lot more influence on fringe theatre inside and outside festival season in the future. (This particular play started off in Yorkshire, but it was in Manchester where this really got its name.)

Kate dream of being a successful writer but ends up spending all her energy to try to shag Sexy Gary. Skank is billed as a “Tesco value northern Fleabag”, although the trailers I’ve seen look like the altogether more excruciating humour of Peep Show. It also seems, like the famous play it compares itself to, there’s a lot more Kate’s character than this, and there’s an underlying theme of insecurity throughout this. It’s on the 14th & 15th March in The Horse and Stables at 7.00 p.m.

39 Degrees

https://redbellyblacktheatre.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/gopr0967_1564162607603_high.jpgMost of my Vault Festival recommendations come from elsewhere, but my last recommendation is on the strength of a group’s performance same time same place last year. I really liked RedBellyBlack’s Tacenda last year, a cleverly-crafted tale where the same day is played over four times, until the two women involved correctly choose the right battles to pick. The real strength in this, however, was their devised theatre making. I’m used to a high standard of devised theatre, this ensemble of three executed it perfectly.

So this year they are doing a play about the heatwave on July, when the temperature reached 39 degrees (except for me – I was in Florence that day and it was 42 degrees, you wimps). The Beano character embarking on his quest to destroy the country in a hilarious slapstick accident may or may not feature in this, but otherwise they’re not giving many clues away. On the 10th – 15th March at 7.30 p.m.

And there’s your list. I’m going to be around on the 14th-15th and 21st-22nd March. Looking forward to seeing how these do.

What’s worth watching: winter/spring 2020

Skip to: Jane Eyre, The Kite Runner, Educating Rita, Green Knight, Quality Street, Ask Me Anything, Crongton Knights, Ten Times Table, Ladybones, Shandyland

And here it is. 2020. And a disappointing lack of flying cars and three-course meal pills that we were promised. So instead let’s look at what’s coming up locally.

Safe Choice:

Usual rules, you can find them here. Beginning with safe choices, these are plays that I’ve either seen before or have heard enough about to be sure that if you like the sound of this play, you’ll like this one – and all of these also have wide appeal. This time, we have three high-profile productions in the same month, and one very different thing.

Jane Eyre

https://i1.wp.com/www.blackeyedtheatre.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/BE_JaneEyre-7351-1024x683.jpgBlackeyed Theatre have been touring the country for years with consistently high standards, and their current tour is no exception. Jane Eyre is the third play written by Nick Lane, Blackeyed’s latest creative collaborator, and it continues their high standard: well-written adaptations that use small ensemble casts that – with one exception – stay faithful to the original books, and yet maintain a consistent style throughout their work that is unmistakeably theirs. Jane Eyre is halfway through its tour and I’ve already seen it, and, as expected it lived up to expectations, with the added bonus of a nice throwback to the acoustic sound plots that Blackeyed Theatre does so well.

The most exciting Blackeyed Theatre event this year is yet to come. The one story where Nick Lane made a major change – the addition of Elenor Laynon in The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde – was superb. That is returning later this year. But in the meantime, the return of Jane Eyre is well worth catching if you missed it last time round. The tour takes in Middlesbrough Theatre on the 6th – 7th May.

The Kite Runner

https://www.londontheatre1.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/the-kite-runner-uk-tour.jpg

I rarely send adaptations straight to safe choice solely on the strength of the source material, especially when I don’t know anyone involved in the adaptation, but having seen how effective A Thousand Splendid Suns was on the stage last year I’m sending this straight to the top of the list.There’s a few differences between the two stories though. Loosely mirroring Hosseini‘s own life, Amir’s family succeeded where Laila’s failed: getting out of the country before it was too late. As a result, Amir is spared the horrors of Soviet rule then Taleban rule, but the people he leaves behind aren’t so fortunate. As a result, survivor’s guilt plays a large part of the story.

One curiosity is that The Kite Runner was the target of a minor censorship campaign, from people outraged that over the book giving such an unfairly negative portrayal of, er, the Taleban. On the whole, however, if you liked A Thousand Splendid Suns you will like this one too. The two stories complement each other well to give rounded and nuanced perspective of a dark period of Afghan history that looks beyond the simplistic divisions of goodies and baddies. It calls at the north east with Darlington Hippodrome on the 12th-16th May.

Educating Rita

https://www.educatingrita.co.uk/static/ER-1692380ae26eabff851f2f51bb6e6c50.pngWho’d have predicted this? Less than three years ago, the Gala Theatre ran Willy Russel’s masterpiece for one week, solely for the sake of getting in-house productions back up and running. Jessica Johnson’s superb performance as Rita then inspired Theatre by the Lake to cast her in their own production, along with north-east heavyweights Max Roberts as director and Stephen Tompkinson as Frank. Now that tour has been a success and they are back with a bigger and better tour. I’d originally assumed if this ever came to Newcastle, Live Theatre would be the obvious choice and that’s the favourite haunt of both director and actors. Not now – this calls for a bigger theatre.

And so, what began with a low-key beginning comes to Newcastle Theatre Royal on the 18th-23rd May. The play itself of course needs no introduction, but Jessica Johnson perfectly captures the character of Rita, torn between an ambition to make more of her life than a lowly hairdresser and low self-esteem brought on by friends and family expecting her to know her place. This play has so far only been a footnote in the theatre news of Newcastle, but you have no excuse to miss it this time. It’s about time this performance got the audience it deserves on home terf, so do not miss this.

Green Knight

img_3932e-343x343The first three safe choices are major tours, but this final safe choice is quite the opposite: a solo performance the requires next to nothing in the way of staging. A low-key performance at the last two Buxton Fringe, this swiftly earned a reputation as one of the best performances going. Green Knight is a retelling of Sir Gawain’s legend as told by the temptress Lady Bertilak, but it’s a clever retelling. Nothing is changed from the original story, but a lot is added – and, in a way, this is the only way it could have been if you think about the story. By popular demand, I will point out that Lord Bertilak is a bit of cock and the game he plays was really a cock thing to do. But as well as being a pawn in his game, she is also in love with the noble and gallant Sir Gawain.

The other thing that stands out of the play is its simplicity. Whilst the other three plays all make use of the big stages in their own ways, this performance works best in the small intimate spaces it tours to. No need for lavish lighting and sound plots here – just Debbie Cannon and the props Lady Bertilak brings on stage is all that’s needed to tell that tale. You can see this at York Theatre Royal‘s studio theatre on the 5th February.

Bold choice:

Next three are plays that I know less about, but I have reasons to believe they’re worth a punt. It’s a bit more a risk that may not work out, but if it comes off, you might be glad you were one of the first to see this.

Quality Street

https://www.northern-broadsides.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Screenshot-2019-09-12-at-14.47.15.pngProbably the most notable item on the list is Northern Broadsides’ first production under its new artistic director, Laurie Samson. Northern Broadsides raised a few eyebrows last year with the surprise news that its interim artistic director, Conrad Nelson – who everyone assumed was a shoo-in as Barrie Rutter’s permanent replacement – left the company completely. But Laurie Samson is a formidable successor, a former artistic director of both the Royal & Derngate and the National Theatre of Scotland. Huge vote of confidence for Northern Broadsides that they had candidates of that calibre. I’ve only seen one of his plays before years ago, and that was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the Edinburgh Fringe; but that was excellent, and a style that I reckon will suit the Broadsiders very well.

Bold choice as Quality Street is an unknown quantity, but what is ? This is a story by J. M. Barrie, and since you’re probably wondering: yes, this is what the well-known chocolates are named after. The story is of Phoebe, who, upon discovering her old flame back from the wars has lost interest in her, re-invents herself as the wilder and sassier Livvy to get him back. Apparently this production has worked in some true-life stories from the real Quality Street factory in Halifax, however that works. One notable change is that, for the first time since God knows when, Northern Broadsides is coming to Newcastle, at Northern Stage on the 24th – 28th March. The Yorkshire stops include the Stephen Joseph Theatre on the 12th – 16th May, Harrogate Theatre on the 19th – 23rd May, and York Theatre Royal on the 9th – 13th June.

Ask Me Anything

Ihttps://btg.ams3.cdn.digitaloceanspaces.com/images/53403/original/Ask_Me_Anything.jpgt would be a monumental task for The Paper Birds to top Mobile, but that doesn’t stop them trying. Their smash hit from three years ago took people’s stories of social mobility and staged it in a mobile home with amazing effects. This follow-up looks at the world of teenagers. They asked teenagers across to the country to write in and ask their questions, and this is where they give their answers. Already this is a very interesting premise, because there’s two very different audiences to cater for here: teenagers like them who want answers to the life ahead of them, and the rest of the audience who get to see how much things have or haven’t changed since they were that age.

It’s billed as an immersive production: not quite Great Gatsby levels of immersion, but the theatre made up to look like a teenager’s bedroom, and if you’re going to do this properly you should sit on one of the cushion seats. The preview last summer was promising, but the show was at its strongest when it made the most of the innovative staging that made Mobile such a success – I reckon the more opportunities they find to do this, the better the final version will be. It runs at Live Theatre on the 30th January – 8th February. There is also a couple of performances at Black Box, York (I think that’s a space associated with the University) on the 27th-28th February, and then, by a strange coincidence, five cities in alphabetical order. And one other destination worth a mention, but I will get on to that shortly.

Crongton Knights

Pilot Theatre are another frequent visitor to my recommendations, but, everything I’ve seen them do so far has impressed me. Most of scripts are stories I’ve never heard of, but so far I’ve always liked them. What really makes them stand out, however, is their sets. How they stage their plays varies, but from the complex but superbly executed running treadmill plus projections in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner to simply but stunningly effective set of Noughts and Crosses last year, they’ve never disappointed.

I confess, however, that on this occasion I honestly don’t know what they’ve got in store. Neither the original book nor this play adaptation are giving away much about what happens. All it says is that McKay and his mates live on a rough estate, until one day a friend gets into trouble and they embark on a mission “that goes further than any of them imagined”. But if Noughts and Crosses is anything to go by, they are holding back on something big. The tour takes in York Theatre Royal on the 25th – 29th February.

You might like …

This category is mainly for plays I’ve seen before and, like safe choice, is something I’m confident you’ll enjoy if you like the sound of this. The only thing they don’t need that safe choice does is wide appeal – these can have more specialist appeal. We have coming up:

Ten Times Table

https://www.kenwright.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/015_Ten-Times-Table_Pamela-Raith-Photography.jpgI don’t normally list Ayckbourns in my picks: legend though he is, you know what you’re getting and know what to expect. However, Ten Times Table has my attention because, over and above the usual reasons to see an Ayckbourn, this revival has accidentally found a new lease of life as a satire of modern politics. Originally meant to poke fun at the pettiness of council committee meetings, the main appeal now is watching the meetings spiral out of control into a power-struggle between the extreme left and extreme right over the pettiest matters imaginable. Needless to say, if you are a Boris superfan or a Jeremy superfan you will probably miss the point of the play. If you grew sick of both Boris superfans and Jeremy superfans a long time ago, you’ll be nodding along. As I said, a somewhat specialist appeal.

Ayckbourn productions are frequently misunderstood by companies who produce them, and the most effective way of ensuring you see Ayckbourn done properly is to see a Stephen Joseph Theatre production – but this production, although not affiliated with the SJT, can almost be claimed as one of theirs, with Robin Herford, Ayckbourn’s deputy for many years, directing the play. This is at York Theatre Royal on the 10th – 15th February. Shit, I’ve left this late. Get your ass down to York today.

Ladybones

I saw this at last year;s Vault Festival and this is worth seeing as something different. Sorcha McCaffrey plays Nuala, an archeology student whose finds a skull on a dig that becomes a trigger for the unravelling of her orderly life. And for her, order is important, because Nuala has OCD. And – as this play sets out to show – OCD is not just an eccentricity involving arranging pens; when events send her out of her comfort zone the play shows how the world becomes a terrifying place.

This isn’t the most straightforward play to follow, but that’s very much the point of story. The tone follows the story – an easy to understand beginning with the discovery of the skull and the attention of a senior researcher with dubious morals; a middle where things get confusing at the height of an OCD episode; before return to some sort of sense and normality at the end. Following a well-received run at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, it’s on tour again and comes to Alphabetti Theatre on the 18th – 21st Febuary.

Wildcard

Finally, one thing where I’ve no idea whether or not it’s any good, but it’s grabbed my attention as something of interest. This, however, is something that I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for while.

Shandyland

One thing that every theatre wants is to get more audience in from working-class backgrounds, but it’s only in recent years I’ve seen these efforts stepped up. And yet … I am sceptical. One form this has taken – as this is already becoming an in-joke in theatres – is endless plays about miners. The other forms I’m frequently seeing is political causes popular with middle-class left-wingers, apparently assuming this is what the working class wants to see. Whilst the truth, of course, is that working class (like every other group) is a vastly diverse bunch of people with a whole range of backgrounds, interests, experiences and opinions. I cannot speak for anyone working-class myself, but if it was me, this would come across as a programme that a middle-class dominated theatre elite thinks the working-class ought to be interested in, regardless of reality.

So I’m pinning my hopes of Shandyland, coming in the spring. This is a co-production between four theatres and Greyscale, and is the is story of Amy, who was born on the floor of a Working Men’s Club. The story spans twenty years, and promises a shout of frustration from an abandoned community. So far, so good. Can this avoid the pitfalls that so many other plays fall foul of? Find out on the12th – 23rd May at Northern Stage.

What’s worth watching: autumn/winter 2019

Skip to: Build a Rocket, The Turn of the Screw, Jane Eyre, Les Miserables, And She, Hound of the Baskervilles, Lord of the Flies, Poplab, There’s Someone Coming Through, Clear White Light, Playland, Season’s Greeting / Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, Scarborough

Damn. Only barely finished my Edinburgh Fringe coverage at it’s autmn already, which means I’d better get on with another season of recommendations. As always, this should be considered a cross-section of what’s out there rather than a definitive list – if you want to know the full rules of what goes into recommendations you can come this way.

Safe Choice

Starting with the top tier, these four are plays where I have very strong reasons to believe – either because I’ve seen the play before or on the strength of other plays from the company – that you can’t go wrong with any of these. It will need to be something that already appeals to you – if, for example, you hate musicals, the one I’ve listed here will probably not change your mind – but if this sounds like the thing for you I’m making a firm call.

Build a Rocket

46-web20image20bar

Heading the list this season is a play I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, produced by the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Serena Manteghi reprises her role as Yasmin, teenager with a future ahead of her who suddenly loses it all when she ends up pregnant, especially when neither the low-life father nor her own mother are any help. In a different play that would be the end of story – indeed, this was how a minority of reviewers saw it in Edinburgh. The play got decried by some as “poverty porn” for playing to the a working-class stereotype, but that really misses the point. Far from entrenching those stereotypes, it challenges them by moving on to what happens afterwards in the next 18 years, as Yasmin slowly picks herself up and builds a new life with her son Jack.

Continue reading

What’s worth watching: Edinburgh Fringe 2019

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/62/Pleasance_Courtyard.jpg/800px-Pleasance_Courtyard.jpg

Skip to: Bite-Size, From Judy to Bette, Great Grimm Tales, Green Knight, Mustard, Police Cops in Space, Sary, Testament of Yootha, All of Me, An Audience with Yasmine Day, The Grandmothers Grimm, Moby Dick, Myra, Police Cops: badass be thy name, Taboo, Trainspotting Live

Apologies for the late arrival this year – a lot of things have been happening with inconvenient timing this year. But Edinburgh Fringe is already in its first weekend and I’d better get a move on.

So, welcome to Edinburgh Fringe 2019, the biggest Edinburgh Fringe ever by a long way. There was a time when this news prompted all-round celebrations – not any more. Questions are being asked everywhere of the affordability of Edinburgh, both to performers and punters, and last year the issue of working conditions has also joined the debate. But these issues were all the rage last year, and none of this is stopping the growth. This issue must surely come to a head eventually, but it looks like it won’t be this year.

Instead it’s business as usual. I’ve looked through the programme and picked out a selection of plays I think are worth seeing. As always, I must remind you that this should be considered a cross-section of what’s on offer rather than a comprehensive list – most of the listings are plays and acts I’ve never heard of, some of whom will be as brilliant as anything I list here. However, I have set a new rule for Edinburgh: performers get a maximum of one recommendation per category. Some groups are bringing several plays to Edinburgh and I have confidence in all of them, but in order to stop smaller artists getting swamped by all these entries I have to do something to keep the list down to something manageable. Where a group has other plays of note, I will list those against their entry.

Unless otherwise noted, all plays listed here run the entire fringe.

Safe choice:

So we start, as always, with the top tier. Most safe choices are plays I have seen before performed by a group I’ve seen before; occasionally, however, a performer has had such an impressive record I’ve put a new play straight to safe choice.

In all cases, this is a surefire recommendation if – and this is the big if – you think this play appeal to you. Few plays appeal to everyone of every taste, and if you don’t like the sound of the play, all the five-stars in the world won’t change this. However, all of these plays are considered to have wide appeal, if you like the sound of this I’m confident you’ll like it for real, and even if it’s a bit different from what you usually see it may be worth giving any of these a go. They are:

The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show

04-05-2019-205838-4908

One of the greatest pleasures of going to fringe after fringe is the rare occasion when obscure newcomers go on to great things. Bite Size’s sets of ten-minute plays was something I saw in 2016 in the smaller soom of Roman Eagle Lodge, then the bigger room, then a bigger space in Gilded Balloon, and for the last few years they’ve been a headline performance at Queen Dome, one of the Pleasance’s biggest spaces. But there are bigger ones, and this year they’re in Pleasance Forth, one of the biggest of all. That’s about as big as you can get, and the full journey has been done. There is one touch of sadness attached to this: the earliest runs worked very well with the intimate setting of a small audience. But it would be impossible to go back to this now – in recent years the tickets have been selling out solidly, so there really was no option but to go large. (And even then, I am hearing that the Monday and Tuesday in week one, always in high demand because of two-for-one deals, have sold out already.) Continue reading

What’s worth watching: Buxton Fringe 2019

medium.fringe40programmecoverartcompetition.12

Skip to: Call Mr. Robeson, Old Bones, Jordan, Updownsizing, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, An Audience with Yasmine Day, Moby Dick, Impostors, Tomorrow I’ll the Happy, The Grandmothers Grimm, Brain Rinse, Under Milk Wood

Buxton Fringe is back, and it’s another interesting one. Two years ago there was a very unpredictable fringe when the building housing the key venue was closed for redevelopment – and yet, against all expectations, the fringe grew. This year, however, there was a change which everyone expected would push the numbers up, and it did: 213 events this year, up from 180; and about 750 performances, up from 500.

The change in question is extending the festival by three days from 18 to 21. At it stands, this is a temporary extension for just the fringe’s 40th anniversary year – but the organisers must surely be looking at registrations and ticket sales closely to see if this can be made permanent. Where there is a bit more of a surprise is where the growth has occurred. Doing the same number-crunching as I did in 2017, there are some interesting stats:

Continue reading

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

What’s worth watching: Brighton Fringe 2019

8755476918_dd78835d16_z
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