Brighton Fringe 2018 – as it happens

This page is updated during the course of the Brighton Fringe. Come back for more updates as they arrive.

REVIEWS: Skip to: Always, With a Love That’s True, Brighton Queen of Slaughtering Places, Tom and Bunny Save the World, Susan Harrison is a Bit Weepy, Wan In, Wan Oot, Apparatus, Larkin Descending, Beasts, The Owl and the Pussycat

Friday 25th May: Time now for a catch-up on shows I’ve seen or recommended, and see how they’ve fared with other reviews. I’m not keeping track of every single review, but I do highlight those of note. I neglected to mention that Apparatus did very well with reviews, but these good reviews were coming in before I saw it and liked it, so no surprises there.

(Usual caveats apply: star ratings are wildly subject to individual reviewers’ preferences, and scores attached to individual reviews should always be treated with caution. But when multiple people give consistently good reviews or consistently bad reviews, that is generally quite reliable is telling you whether its any good. I look at star ratings because these are largely immune to selective interpretation of how good the review it.)

Of more interest is Always, With a Love That’s True. Reviews of Wired Theatre’s shows are sporadic, partly because they don’t make it easy to be contacted, and partly because (so I gather) Brighton Fringe can be sloppy at processing requests to put press in touch with performers. But this time I’ve seen reviews from both Broadway Baby and FringeGuru. It’s good: five-star and four-star respectively. Of particularly note: both reviews, along with mine, praise Robin Humphreys from bringing out the changes between Andrew’s sinister manipulation, and his vulnerability. Probably a good year to get the reviewers in though: last year’s play was a more experimental one that could have gone either way – the sequel this year consolidated the story into something more focused and dark, and this was a good time for it to pay off. Wired doesn’t really need this – they have a loyal following who love their shows no matter what the reviewers say – but they can nonetheless be pleased with how they’ve done.

But the one I was most interested to see how Last Night At The Circus went. I’m still gutted I couldn’t see this myself, because this was one of the biggest gambles of the fringe. After the first performance, Broadway Baby gave it a three-star review, but follow the second, Jane Postelthwaite got a spate of good reviews, including four stars from The Reviews Hub and Latest Brighton. I’ve only skimmed these reviews because I’m not giving up hope of seeing this in the future and I don’t want to give away too much. But one thing is pretty clear: this is much much darker than her previous work. I wasn’t sure whether her experiences of mental health were going to be a central theme or an incidental one. But having discovered her opening line is ““Sorry, I have tricked you all into a show about mental health!  No refunds, the doors are locked!”, it’s now clear this is the overriding theme of the play.

And so we go into our penultimate weekend. Still things on my radar that interest me. Can an act in the final week pull off any eleventh-hour surprises?

Thursday 24th May: Eeek. I’m supposed to be making recommendations for plays back home, and the first one, Birdsong, finished at the Gala this Saturday. Better get a move on with What’s worth watching: spring/summer 2018. This includes a last-minute entry of Tom and Bunny Save the World, based on their performance just gone in Brighton.

Whilst there is a quiet moment, now might be a good time to look ahead to the next fringe, Buxton. Last year was a big year of change for Buxton, with the key venue closing permanently* for redevelopment. Underground Venues moved to The Old Clubhouse, swapping two smaller spaces for one bigger space. But the big plot twist was the arrival of the pop-up Rotunda Theatre. Suddenly, there was another big venue to counterbalance the dominance of the old one. One unwanted effect of this rearrangement was the loss of smaller venues suitable for entry-level acts, and with it – it appear – the loss of entry-level acts from the programme. However, this was offset by higher-profile acts coming to the new bigger spaces, and the net result was an unexpected increase in registrations.

*: Permanence of closure may differ from that advertised. But that’s speculation for another day.

This year is a “no change” year for venues, and with it little change in the number of registrations. The overall number is 180, a very slight reduction of 3 from the previous year. Rotunda and Underground venues have both had slight increases, but for different reasons. Rotunda was announced very late last time round – this time, acts have had longer to consider this option, and there seems to have been an increase of uptake – they’d just better hope they don’t get plagued by cancellations this time. Underground managed to squeeze in a few extra acts due to better availability of the Arts Centre anb tighter timetabling.

The bad news, however, was that Underground Venues’ idea to set up a second space in the Tap Room hasn’t come off this time round. They’re still looking at doing this next year – in the meantime, there’s still a lack of spaces for beginners to perform. With Brighton getting a progressively worse option for groups starting off on the fringe circuit, it’s important that fringes such as Buxton stay viable. Let’s hope something comes off next year.

Wednesday 23rd May: Time again for a look at what’s coming up.

Two shows that caught my attention are in the final leg of their split runs. Whaddy Know, We’re in Love, everyone’s favourite take on the classic age of musicals is on today and tomorrow at the Rialto at 6.40 p.m. Then Franz Kafka: Apparatus, everyone’s favourite take on unnecessarily elaborate death machines, is on also at the Rialto, 6.30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Meanwhile, starting its run at Brighton Fringe is Elsa. I saw this at the Vault Festival, and I highlighted this one because it’s something different. It could be described as theatre, comedy or musical storytelling, but Isobel Rogers’ story of Elsa working at the coffee bar and the tales of all of her customers was certainly memorable. First showing at Komedia at 9.15 p.m., this Friday, with two other performances next week.

Other than that, a quite mid-week update. Have there been no fringe scandals yet? That would spice things up a bit. Failing that, someone feel free to make one up.*

* Note: That was a joke. Please don’t do that. I can’t afford legal bills for a libel case.

Tuesday 22nd May: Home time. And also the end of my reviews in the live coverage. Although I saw stuff yesterday, that was all at Sweet, so you’ll have to wait for that. But it’s not the end of my Brighton Fringe coverage, because there’s still a couple of weeks to go. Although we are back to daily updates now. So this is a good time to take a look at this article from Paul Levy of FringeReview. (These columns are worth keeping an eye on. Whether or not you agree with where he’s going, he picks his issues well and starts conversations where they’re needed – the previous column questioning the rise of supervenues is a good one.) His latest one ruffled a few feathers, and it’s on the subject of reviews that are cruel for their own sake. On the face of it, few performers would dispute this. If you haven’t been the subject of a hit piece review yourself, you’ll probably know someone who has.

For the avoidance of doubt, we’re not talking about reviewers who hated the play – this is the practice of going out of your way to turn your review into entertainment by rubbishing everything about the play and – more often than not – rubbishing the people in the play. It’s as if these reviewers want to be Charlie Brooker, except that the real Charlie Brooker’s childish insults were only an act – scraping under the surface, he was insightful and fair and only disparaged high-profile shows who can answer back. The Charlie Brooker-wannabes in fringe reviews, on the other hand, usually resort to substance-free insults and have no qualms about runing the chances of the smallest of acts.

Before I get too sanctimonious, I should probably say how I keep my own house in order. It a bit easier for me, because my general policy of only writing reviews of good stuff means I normally end up writing nothing at all about plays I hate. In recent years I’ve relaxed this rule for higher-budget productions, but I always make sure that any criticism I make does at least show what could have been done instead. “The writing was terrible” is not helpful. “The writing is terrible because the characters weren’t believable” might be. (And, okay, I did once call modern artist Paul McCarthy a pretentious piss-weasel, but only as a counterbalance to an army of sycophants lavishing praise. I would not say something like that to a fringe performer in my position.)

But that’s just me. Can you create a rule that covers everyone? A code of conduct agreed between review publications might clamp down on the worst excesses such as personal attacks, but I’ve been told that this as been tried before, and there was no agreement. I have a suspicion of a root problem in that, for all the disapproval of unfair/cruel reviews, there is little consensus on what this actually means. This quote from Simon Jenner is worrying:

I feel too there’s a significant political alignment worth contemplating. Trolling ‘reviewers’ are often right-wing, more Quentin Letts than Michael Billington. The agenda is often anti-innovation, anti-risk, non-inclusive clearly.

That is, at best, naive; at worst, blinkered. I’ve seen character assassination reviews across the ideological spectrum. I’ll give him the doubt and assume he means well, but as soon as you deem bad reviews as something that only the other side does, you render the whole concept worthless. Quentin and co could easily make exactly the same claim about the other side, and as long as everyone thinks it’s the other lot who have to get their house in order, nothing changes. It’s this sort of thing that lends legitimacy to the mindset of “It’s not online harassment if they had it coming” (said every online harasser ever).

Condemning trolling reviews is one thing, but if there’s the slightest hope of anything changing, we are going to have to be more specific about this. I can understand why people may be reluctant to specify individual reviews (and with that start arguments), but at the very least we need to specify what practices are unacceptable. I’ll open this debate my naming personal attacks and discrimination as two things that should never be tolerated. But it will take more than speculation over people’s motives to stop this happening. We’ll never stop reviews that are cruel for their own sake if we can’t agree what that actually means.

Monday 21st May, 6.00 p.m.: And now, it’s time for this year’s offering from Wired Theatre. Wired is an unusual group for several reasons. They operately entirely in site-specific theatre, and they are an ensemble of older actors, defying the stereotype for fringe as a young person’s game. Lately, however, it’s occurred to me that Wired is also a symbol of what Brighton Fringe used to be. Before the arrival of the supervenues, it was common to have plays in all sort of non-theatre spaces, with site-specific pieces one way of doing it. But as Brighton has become more like Edinburgh, as performers pursue bigger audiences in bigger spaces, Wired has stayed as they are. And, if you’ve got a loyal audience who sees you year after, and you aren’t pursuing grander dreams on grander stages, why change?

Anyway, this year, Wired brings Always, With a Love That’s True. Unusually for Wired – or indeed for most fringe companies – this is a straight sequel to last year’s play.
As such, I did wonder whether this would be suitable for people who weren’t around the year before. But, coming to think of it, And Love Walked In was probably the best Wired play to set up another chapter. The last play established that Andrew was a self-employed therapist, a forced career change after he lost his job as a teacher due to alcoholism. Sadly, his self-destructiveness was only ever paused, not vanquished. Andrew embarks on an affair with a client, Jo, driving his wife Sheila into the arms of Polish neighbour Piotr. But Jo goes back to partner Phyl, leaving Andrew with no-one.

And so, part two begins how part one began, Andrew at his desk, playing the part of the therapist. Except that he’s in a grubby T-shirt, the booze is back in plain sight, and the paper he’s currently writing “5 ways to kill your wife’s lover” – supposedly an academic paper covering an academic situation, but quite obviously specific about a certain Polish gentleman. When a client rings the doorbell, Andrew hastily puts on a clean shirt and applies mouthwash, only to be confronts by Jo Phyl about the affair he now denies. And then Sheila unexpectedly returns. Her beloved Piotr is dead of a heart attack. She knows no-one else to turn to.

Robin Humphreys gives the best performance I’ve seen him do in the nine years I’ve seen Wired’s plays. With the core cast of Wired being one male and three female, he normally ends up playing a shabby womaniser, but this character has a lot more depth. Andrew is the worst kind of ruthless manipulator – but there is also a vulnerable side that Robin brings out so well. For all his lying and cheating, Andrew doesn’t what he’d lost till it was gone, and now that her lover is dead, there is a quiet desperation in the way he wants all his lies to be true, that there was no affair with Jo, that Piotr meant nothing to Shelia. But Piotr is not quite gone – he’s still in Andrew’s head. I do miss Graham White, who played Piotr last year – it would be been really dramatic to see a confrontation between living and dead nemeses. But Humphreys running a conversation with himself in both voices was a good substitute to depict Andrew’s failing sanity.

Can you watch this without having seen the first play? I’ve got an inconclusive verdict here. I personally thought there was enough information to pick up where the last play left off, but having heard comments from other people who didn’t see it, there seems to be a split between those who did and didn’t follow it. I’m going to stand by my own assessment and say that you can enjoy this as a stand-alone play, but it might help if Wired broke the habit of a lifetime and handed out a programme before the show instead of after, so the initiated can catch up before the play begins.

I am told that director Slyvia Vickers is planning to make this a trilogy, so we probably have not heard the last of this saga. There’s two weekends to go (plus Monday 28th as that’s a bank holiday), but definitely book in advance to be sure. Continue reading


Edinburgh Fringe 2017 – as it happens

REVIEWS: Skip to: Richard Carpenter is Close to You, La Vie Dans Une Marionette, The Friday Night Effect, Victim, Love+, Cockroached, Lists for the End of the World, Replay, Was it Good for You?, The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show, Izzy’s Manifestoes, Penthouse, Just Don’t Do It, You, Me and Everything Else, Boris and Sergey, Goblin Market, One-Man Apocalypse Now, Mimi’s Suitcase, No Miracles Here, The City, BlackCatfishMusketeer

Thursday 31st August: And that’s all folks. It’s the end of my coverage for yet another fringe, and with it all coverage of festivals for 2017. Coverage of festival fringes will resume in April 2018 when I look ahead to Brighton Fringe, or if you can’t wait for that, the Vault Festival some time between February and March.

I’m not quite done on the Fringepig fallout, because there have still been developments since I last wrote about this, but I’m getting too  bored of this to sum this all up right at this moment. But I will. Oh yes.

So attention now turns back to local theatre, especially local grass-roots theatre, which makes it very good timing for the new Alphabetti Theatre to open its doors tomorrow. And my first recommendation there is Overdue which I first saw at a scratch night last year and looked very promising. It runs on the 5th-16th September. But for the majority of my readership who aren’t based in the north-east, goodbye see you at the next festival.

Wednesday 30th August: Before we go, there’s news on the ticket sales at the Edinburgh Fringe. The headline figure is an increase of 9% from 2016. As always, the most important number to compare this to is the growth in registrations, which was up 3.9%. Ticket sale growth higher than registration growth, the conventional wisdom suggests, will help drive further growth next year, as revenue per act increases, at least in theory. Richard Stamp of Fringeguru reports that this works out as an increase from 62.8 tickets per performance to 64.4 tickets per performance (subject to some caveats for how this was calculated.)

Of course, the mean average doesn’t tell the whole story. 64.4 is more than the capacity of most fringe spaces – this figure is only possible because of some huge spaces with hundreds of seats. So where are the extra sales going? That we don’t know. It is possible that it’s a top-heavy increase where the sole beneficiaries of the increases and the biggest acts in the biggest venues – if that was the case, the 9% increase would be useless to most acts thinking of coming. Or it could be a bottom-heavy increase. Without knowing more information about sales, we don’t know. Go on Edfringe. Give us some more numbers to crunch. You know you want to.

Whatever the details, however, it’s a considerably better year from Edinburgh Fringe than that last one. In 2016, it just about became a possibility that Brighton might catch up if the trends that year continues. This year, however, it now looks like Edinburgh’s place at the top of the pile is safe indefinitely.

Tuesday 29th August: Enough waiting. Let’s get to it. I have listed everything I’ve seen. It was a list with a high standard so I’ve had to get choosy, but here it is:

Pick of the Fringe:

No Miracles Here
Mimi’s Suitcase
The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show
Izzy’s Manifestoes
The Friday Night Effect
Richard Carpenter is Close to You
(Call Mr. Robeson)

Honourable Mention:

One-Man Apocalypse Now
Goblin Market
Boris and Sergey
You, Me and Everything Else
La Vie Dans Une Marionette
The House
Police Cops in Space
The Wedding Reception
(Mars Actually)
(The Dark Room)
(The Empress and Me)

Plays marked in brackets are plays I’ve seen in the year before the Edinburgh Fringe, including Brighton and Buxton Fringes and the Vault Festival – this is because I don’t have time to see plays again, so this means plays I’ve seen before get a fair chance against those seen at Edinburgh for the first time.

Wow, I think this is the toughest list to pick winners ever. Keep up the good work. Continue reading

Brighton Fringe 2017 – as it happens

REVIEWS: Skip to Doktor James’s Akademy of Evil, Catching the Ghost, BADD, Blink, The Ruby in the Smoke, Decide-a-Quest, Shit-faced Showtime, Blooming, Between You and Me, I Am Beast, And Then Love Walked In, Gratiano 7th June: And that’s it from this year’s Brighton Fringe coverage. I had been holding out for news of the ticket sales, but it’s getting on a bit now. If I hear news in the next few days, I might post an update.

I can. however, leave you with news of the registration figures for Edinburgh. It’s up from 3,269 last year to 3398 this year. This is 3.9% growth, although part of this offsets the slight shrinkage last year. To look at it another way, if you measure fringe size by number of registrations, Brighton is up from 27.5% the size of Edinburgh last year to 28.5% this year. Brighton closes the gap a little further, but nothing as dramatic as last year.

So now it’s time to sign off. Roundup soon, I hope. Thank you to everyone who stuck with me through this and everyone who put on plays for me. Time to get ready for Buxton now. Then the big one. Cheerio.

Tuesday 6th June: We now have a list of winners of Brighton Fringe awards, whcih I can’t actually say that much about because all the awards went to plays I haven’t seen, so I can’t really comment. However, I do at least avoid seeing a play I hated on that list. There are some small mercies.

However, there is one award that’s notable specifically because I’ve never heard of it. Best venue went to Junkyard Dogs, a venue I’d never heard of, but nonetheless had a decent line-up this year, mostly comedians. Along with Lam Comedy getting best venue last year, it does suggest that, for comedy at least, the small venues are putting up decent competition against the big ones. This is a notable contrast to the Edinburgh fringe, where everybody who’s anybody in comedy goes to one of the big four supervenues.

The only other comment I have is that there is one award whose position in this cermony I’d say is questionable. The Brighton Argus has always awarded a Argus Archangel for their top show of the fringe (with the next tier of awards being the Argus Angels), which has been all well and good so far. This year, the winner was Urinetown – no complaints about who’s won, I’ve never seen this musical but I’ve only ever heard good things about it – but how many Brighton Fringe plays did the Argus review? Two. Okay, it’s possible they reviewed more fringe shows that only went in their print edition, in which case I’ll take that back, but online at least, their reviews are vastly dominated by the Festival. Sure, local papers are generally having a tough time at the moment and perhaps fringe reviews aren’t as economical as they used to be, but two? I do hope they can do more next year, but if not, I’d ask series questions about their place in the awards ceremony.

But you don’t want to know about those silly awards, do you? You want to know what’s going to be my pick of the fringe. Well, I have decided, but before I do this, this is been an unusual year because a lot of what I saw wasn’t really theatre. Some was factual, some was entertainment, so was fun, but I decided in the end that they were too different to meaningfully compare to more conventional plays. I will still write about these in the roundup, but in their own section. Those pieces are Blooming, Shit-Faced Showtime, Decide-a-Quest, Catching the Ghost and Docktor James’s Akademy of Evil.

(Also missing are two plays which were too abysmal to review. As always, bribes accepted.)

So here they are:

Pick of the Fringe

And Then Love Walked In
I Am Beast
Between You and Me

Honourable Mention:

The Ruby in the Smoke

A reminder that these entries are listed in chronological order, so don’t read anything into what’s top or bottom. So congratulations to all those on the list. Final verdicts will be coming in the roundup, whenever that may be. Hopefully not too long. Continue reading

Edinburgh Fringe 2016 – as it happened

REVIEWS: Skip to: Bite-Size Lunch HourStack, Waves, Swansong, The Jungle Book, Le Bossu, Cosmic Fear, The Trunk, Sacre Blue, The Steampunk Tempest, ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore, Made in Cumbria, Boris & Sergey, Ruby and the Vinyl, Boris: World King, BEASTS, Police Cops, Adventures of a Redheaded Coffee Shop Girl, The Life and Crimes and Reverend Raccoon, Communicate, The Unknown Soldier, Bite-Size Breakfast, E15, Northanger Abbey, Unnatural Selection, Notflix, Unveiled, The Club, Overshadowed

This was my coverage of the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe as it happened, featuring snap reviews with my instant impressions of shows. For the more measured reviews written at a more leisurely pace, see my Roundup.  Here, however, you can see what I was thinking at the time. Continue reading

Brighton Fringe 2016 – as it happened

REVIEWS: Skip to: Something Rotten, The Sellotape Sisters, The Bookbinder, Gran Consiglio, 1972: The Future of Sex, Morgan and West, The Tale of Tommy O’Quire, Dancing in the Dark, Fool

This was my live coverage of my thoughts of plays at the Brighton Fringe, along with other interesting developments that broke during the festival. For the final list of reviews, sorted in working order, please read the Brighton Fringe roundup. To see the order in which it happened, read on … Continue reading

Edinburgh Fringe 2015 – as it happened

This was my live coverage of Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, featuring my thoughts as the festival went along. All the plays mentioned here are reviewed in my roundup, when I had more time to think over what I thought. But if you’d rather read what I thought of these plays at the time, read on …

Monday 3rd August, 6.45 p.m.: Welcome to my live coverage of Edinburgh Fringe 2015. This is where you will find all of my snap reviews of Edinburgh fringe plays as and when I see something I recommend. I’ll be at Edinburgh this year on the 8th-10th August and again on the 17th-19th August. Until then, here is a five-day warm-up.

I am planning to publish four articles about the Edinburgh Fringe, on various topics to be announced. But  I might write a fifth if I see something so brilliant I feel it deserves a whole article itself saying how brilliant it is. So far, only two articles have ever held this honour: Caroline Horton with Mess and Dugout Theatre with Inheritance Blues. (Sparkle and Dark would also have got one for The Girl With No Heart had I not already written about it in preview.) Could you be next? Continue reading

Brighton Fringe 2015 – as it happened

This was my live coverage of Brighton Fringe in 2015, featuring my thoughts as the festival went along. All the plays mentioned here are reviewed in my roundup, when I had more time to think over what I thought. But if you’d rather read what I thought of these plays at the time, read on …

Wednesday 20th May, 9.00 am: Welcome to my live coverage of the Brighton Fringe. This is where I will be posting updates of what I’ve seen in Brighton from tomorrow until Sunday evening. And then – you lucky lucky people – you get an extra two days of coverage from London where I’m stopping over before I head home.

Interim reviews of plays I liked will be posted here as soon as possible after I’ve seen them. As always, I will write up everything in a roundup after the fringe is over, but it you can’t wait for my verdict, here is where you’ll see it first. Continue reading