Before I get stuck into Vault festival reviews, there was the festival in London the month before. What started off a one-off festival on Durham, then become a bi-yearly fixture in Durham, and then branched out to a one-off in London, is now a regular fixture in London too. This is a theatre blog and a light festival blog so I won’t be giving a detailed critique of every single attraction, but as this is a Durham-based blog and this is Durham’s greatest cultural export, this deserved a mention here.
Let’s get started:
The bigger festival
After the inaugural Lumiere London of 2016, there were questions over whether it could return, not because it wasn’t popular enough, but because it was too popular. Crowding became a big problem, even causing the King’s Cross area to be closed on Saturday night. Not as bad as the infamous Lumiere Durham 2011, but every possibility that the next Lumiere London could be a repeat of this as the festival grows in popularity. But the solution implemented in Durham – closing off the Penninsula to all but residents and ticket holders – must have been out of the question for central London. Continue reading →
Newcastle might still be dominating the north-east’s cultural scene, but the prize for the biggest single cultural export surely belongs to Durham. Originally intended as a one-off in 2009, threatened by funding cuts in 2015, the Lumiere Festival is now not only a cultural institution in the north-east but has also been taken successfully to other cities, most notably London, who are bringing it back for the second time later this month. I’ll be giving my recommendations for London shortly – before that, however, let’s take a look at what Durham had to offer.
As usual, I’m not doing to do a comprehensive roundup of everything, simply pick out some highlights of what I think we should do more of in the future, and also some suggestions of what I’d like done better.
One interesting thing I did was compare what happened this year to what I wrote about in 2015. This year, there was one big change imposed on the festival which is that a lot of Durham is a building site at the moment. Two major sites north and south of the Milburngate Bridge were (and still are) in various states of demolition and rebuilding, and most notably, the Cathedral itself, normally the centrepiece of the festival, has its own building work going on that made the normal installation impossible (more on this is a moment). There was, therefore, a few reasons to believe this would be a different Lumiere to previous festivals. Continue reading →
I have found a number of contrived themes as an excuse to review two plays together. Sometimes it’s two in the same town, sometimes they run at the same time, and sometimes it’s on the same theme. A common theme I was not expecting to use, however, is cross-dressing. But, by co-incidence, the only two plays on this subject come in the same month, so, what the hell, let’s have a cross-dressing themed post. (And the title of this post sounds slightly like a certain infamous couple, although neither of them have embarked on a trail of robbery and murder across the USA unless somebody knows something I don’t.)
That’s the contrived title sorted. Here we go.
How to Win Against History
I don’t know if Northern Stage fully realises what they’d got, but it was a massive coup for them to have Seiriol Davies coming to them. How To Win Against History is the very rare Edinburgh Fringe play that people rave about everywhere you go. This easily sold out on a two-night run in Stage 3, the only puzzle being why Northern Stage programmed such a massively successful show in its smallest space. With a bigger push with publicity I reckon this could easily have filled Stage 2. If you were someone who decided to take a punt on a play about the 5th Marquis of Anglesey, who lived his life the way he wanted, then congratulations – you saw the top reviewed Edinburgh Fringe show of 2016, scooping no less than six five-star reviews. Continue reading →
At last. I am hoping the actually get 2017’s festivals rounded up in the year they actually take place, so let’s get to this. Reviews of everything I saw at Edinburgh Fringe 2017, and a few other things that were going on at the time. Most of this is covered previously in my Live Coverage, and in some cases goes into more detail, but here everything is arranged in a more logical order.
Sometimes I start off with an opening section covering any major stories that happened during the fringe. I’m not doing that this time because this year the fringe as a whole broadly went as planning with no major surprises. Arguably the most important news wasn’t what happened, but what didn’t happen. Last year, the Edinburgh Fringe had a small shrinkage which was was no big deal on its own, but could have threatened Edinburgh Fringe’s status as #1 festival if it continued. But this year, it’s back to growth, with registrations up 3.9% and – crucially – ticket sales up 9%, making this sustainable. The Festival Fringe Society might have got a fright last year, but now it looks like a false alarm. Continue reading →
Ah well, better late than never. At least I can get this out before the registrations open for Buxton Fringe 2018. Apologies for everyone waiting for a review. Usual excuse applies over my ridiculously busy summer. I have learnt my lesson.
So, I’ll leap into reviews in a moment, but before that, a few thoughts on how the fringe went as a whole. This was the most unpredictable fringe for years, firstly due to the delayed but expected loss of Pauper’s Pit and the Barrel Room, and the second unexpected twisted: the arrival of the 110-seat Rotunda. In my preview of Buxton Fringe, I had a look at the changing face of the fringe, looking at who was going to which venues. The headline is that in spite of the loss of a major performing space, the fringe has grown, through a mixture of the arrival of the Rotunda, smaller non-managed venues being stretched to the limit, and the shrinkage at Underground Venues mitigated with some very tight programming. I won’t repeat the details, all that remains is a postscript of how the two major venues fared. Continue reading →
All right, I know I’m nearly two months behind on this. No need to get so smug about it. I’m learning the hard way how much paperwork piles up when you go for a two-week holiday in May, and I’m still clearing the backlog now. But I can’t delay this forever, so let’s get a move on.
New to this roundup is the Ike Awards. I will be writing about this properly when I have a bit more time; if you want to know why I created these awards and who this Ike is, you can find that in my live coverage of the fringe (along with my instant reviews of the plays). For now, the short version is that an Ike Award can be considered equivalent to a five-star rating. It’s a bit like the Brighton Fringe Argus Angels, except they’ve good as stopped reviewing the fringe this year. So, Ike has replaced the Argus Angels. So there.
The one thing you won’t be seeing in this roundup is a list of stories about the fringe as a whole like last time. Last year was a very significant year for the Brighton Fringe, mostly down to the appearance of Sweet Venues, a second supervenue to complement The Warren, and also a huge rise in registrations, partly but not entirely driven by the appearance of this new venue. This year, however, it’s been much more of a “no change” festival. There was another rise in registrations: not a huge one, but enough to suggest last year’s surge isn’t going to recede. Sweet and Warren largely stayed as they are. The only notable difference was the absence of Republic, a large Spiegeltent-style venue on the beach, which I can only suppose couldn’t compete against Spiegeltent proper. The most interesting news that surfaced during the fringe was pop-up venue “Shiny Town” being cancelled after being refused planning permission – at first, it seemed odd that a venue would commit to being in the fringe before they had the go-ahead, but apparently this ran into all sorts of red tape and I’ve drawn a blank over who was at fault. Continue reading →
So Vault 2017 is on. This time last year, doubts were being raised as to whether there would be a Vault 2017 at all owing to financial worries. I was always a little sceptical of this worry, because realistically this space can’t be used for anything else, but whatever the worries, this year, it’s as busy as ever, with no sign to a casual observer that there was ever any trouble. So I found the time to get myself down to London and dip my toe for four days.
To repeat the same thing I said last year (and will probably repeat every year), the Vault Festival should not, as some in the arts press suggest, be considered London’s answer to the Edinburgh Fringe. The whole point of the Edinburgh Fringe is that anyone can take part. The Vault Festival, on the other hand, is a curated festival. I don’t like this blurring between the two kinds of festivals, because this encourages the practice of claiming your festival as a fringe then curating it (e.g. York, Ludlow), depriving entry-level performers of opportunities to get started that is so desperately lacking right now.
This is not in any way the fault of Vault – they never claimed to be a fringe themselves, it was other people who labelled them that way. It would help, however, if they were open about how they curate the festival so the difference is known and understood. I heard that a lot of acts this year was chosen based on a theme of “space”, but that could mean anything, and I always think it’s better to be open about this.