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

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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.

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What’s worth watching: Edinburgh Fringe 2019

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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

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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

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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:

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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

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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://i0.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