Okay, here we go. Let’s round up the big one. After a busy spring and summer with Brighton and Buxton Fringes, Edinburgh does become a bit of an endurance test, but I can think of few better ways of pushing your stamina to the limit. This year, I managed 27 shows over six days, with thoughts on most of them dotted over my live coverage with what I thought at the time. Now it’s time to get this into some sort of order.
Edinburgh Fringe as a whole was dominated with talk of “peak fringe”. The flatline in 2016 turned out to be a blip, and now the 2018 fringe is bigger than ever – and not everybody’s happy about that. Top of the list of complaints was the over-subscribed demand on venues and especially the accommodation rendering the fringe unaffordable for many, and indeed there was a event to discuss this very issue. A secondary issue was the way that fringe workers were treated, with some serious allegations made about the behaviour of some venues that – so far, apparently – the venues in question have not denied.
At some point, I will write my thoughts on what I think should be done about employment rights at the Edinburgh Fringe. I’ve already said the reform I would make to bring down costs: stop obsessing over Edinburgh to the exclusion of all the other fringes. That is unlikely to be the solution favoured by the Festival Fringe Society – but they have to say something, having already backed the cause. At the moment, the ball is in their court. It will be very interesting when they finally say what they propose to do.
But enough of that. We’ve got a lot of reviews to get through, so let’s get started.
Pick of the Fringe:
As always, in recent Edinburgh Fringes – as I’ve got better at finding the good stuff – I’ve had to get pickier over what goes in this top tier. Things that might have made it into pick of the fringe in other festivals or previous years might not make it now. At some point, it looked like I might raise the bar even higher, after an exceptional start over my first 24 hours. But in the end, there were eight that I could pick out as a cut above the rest. Continue reading →
After the unpredictable fringe of 2017, when two key performance spaces were lost to a building development but a new pop-up venue came along, 2018 looked a lot more like a “no change” fringe. Underground Venues was still in its new home of the new clubhouse, Rotunda returned to the Pavilion Gardens, and the Green Man Gallery and United Reformed Church also carried out quite much as before. And the numbers for the fringe, and each of the venues, also held generally steady.
However, the steady figures are a little deceptive, because there’s been quite a bit of change within these figures. The most notable change was the Rotunda: last year, the programme was dominated by seven shows produced by Grist to the Mill; this year, with application to the Rotunda open much earlier, they had a considerably more diverse programme. Also – and there must a been a few sighs of relief – the Rotunda avoided a repeat of the spate of cancellations that marred an otherwise successful inaugural year. Meanwhile, if my unscientific assessment of their programme is correct, Underground Venues had a wider range of entry-level acts this year, possibly as a result of some fringe-wide rebalancing between the two big venues. They also seemed to have fixed last year’s problem of the fringe club bar never being open, with a drinks for tickets promotion seeming to have worked well. (Also, the Arts Centre has now managed to get the bar opened rather than have people queuing on the street.)
On the whole, however, 2018 has broadly consolidated the changes of 2017, with the unexpected rise in 2017 now looking to be permanent rather than an outlying year. But Buxton may not be settling down just yet – the last I heard, Underground Venues is still seeking another space to compensate for the net loss of one last year, and that could potentially increase the numbers further. Meanwhile, there’s talk of the Green Man Gallery taking on paid staff – at the moment, capacity there is seemingly constrained by volunteer time rather than availability of rooms, but if you’re paying someone who effectively becomes a full-time venue manager in July and and anything is possible. Continue reading →
Last year, I had the dubious honour of not getting round to finishing my Brighton Fringe coverage until after the Edinburgh Fringe. That was a little embarrassing, and I don’t want to repeat that in a hurry.
So, Brighton Fringe 2018 has come and gone. Some years I write a lengthy introduction before getting on to reviews – in 2016, for example, the unprecedented growth that year transformed the face of the fringe. This fits into a wider growth of the fringe over the last decade, and I wrote a list of 10 ways the Brighton Fringe has changed for anyone who wants to read this further. This year, however has very much been a “no change” festival. The numbers are about the same as 2017, all the major venues are broadly carrying on doing what they’re doing, and the only notable different is that Sweet Venues ditched Sweet Waterfront and replaced it with Sweet Werks and Sweet @ The Welly. There are some early signs ticket sales may be up, but this is unconfirmed at the time of writing.
Apologies for putting this off – there were a couple of exceptional Ike-winning plays that jumped the queue, but let’s round up what I saw in the Vault festival. Unlike previous festivals, I won’t do any lengthy preamble, because there’s not much change from 2017. The Network Theatre and Waterloo East continue to be satellite venues, and the box office has still sorted out the organisational issues from 2016 (in fact, the venue as a whole runs pretty smoothly). Not quite the same number of Trump jokes this time (I guess last year exhausted the plentiful supply out there), and nothing dominating the buzz the way that immersive Gatsby did last year, but the one change I am so pleased to see is that finally the Vault Festival has installed wi-fi that actually works. Lord be praised.
Seriously, however, one notable change is that Vault 2018 ran for eight weeks, up from six. The good news from this is that they must be confident with the financial state of the Vault to expand like this (and my anecdotal observation is that numbers seemed to hold up fine over the longer period). It does mean, however, that we could reach the point where the Vault could become too powerful and turn into the gatekeepers of who can make it on the London fringe circuit. I don’t think we are at this point yet, and I have no reason to believe the managers of the Vault want to misuse their power, but keep asking questions. With great power comes great responsibility. Continue reading →
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 →