The Ike Awards Hall of Fame: 2018

Skip to: Breaking the Code, The Great Gatsby, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Vivian’s Music 1969, Proxy, Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho

So, with Christmas becoming the moment for my regular end-of-year awards, I thought Easter would be a good spot for my now annual review of Ike Awards from years gone by.

For the recap: during lockdown, I embarked on a project to backdate Ike Awards (my equivalent to five stars) for plays prior to spring 2017 when I started doing this. I went through years 2012 and 2016, and had intended to catch up all the way to the present, but by this point I decided I liked doing this as a retrospective, often having the chance to see where they play and/or group is now. So from 2017 onwards, I’ve been going forward one year at a time.

However, at least one Ike winner from 2018 knows she’s in the queue and is getting impatient, so let’s take a look at the greatest plays I saw from that year. And this was a good year.

Breaking the Code

I rarely review traditional amateur dramatics on this blog. That’s not because traditional amateur dramatics should be written off before you’ve seen in – indeed, some performances are damned good – but, if you’re going to confine yourselves to published scripts that already knows, it’s near-impossible to produce something that isn’t a worse version of a prior professional production. I, on the other hand, look for work that is different, or better, or both. The People’s Theatre have managed this by doing something that most professional theatres can’t: adding an ensemble to the cast. It’s quite common for musicals to have an ensemble but rare for conventional theatre – nevertheless, the People’s Theatre made it look like Hugh Whitmore’s play was written for a cast of twenty all along.

However, the clincher was the performance of David Jack as Alan Turing. I know I said that it’s near-impossible for an amateur group to be as good as the professional productions, but honestly, that was up there with the best performances of the fully professional actors. A common mistake I see amateur theatre make (the People’s is not immune from this themselves) is to think good acting mean remembering all the lines and charging through them word-perfect. Hugh Whitmore’s play is the classic it is because it define Alan Turing as a character so well, and David Jack understood every nuance written into the scripts and brought it to the fore.

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Roundup: Edinburgh Fringe 2021

Very depleted What's On board

Skip to: Zumba Gold, Sinatra: Raw, Under Milk Wood, Shook, Northanger Abbey, Skank, Mustard, Fow, The Little Glass Slipper, Mimi’s Suitcase, Myra’s Story, The Event, Madhouse, Patricia Gets Ready, Fear of Roses, Brave Face, On Your Bike

And a final catchup of reviews before we go into the Christmas & New Year period, it’s the Edinburgh Fringe. Most of what you saw here was already in my live coverage, so all that remains here is to put this is some sort of order for posterity.

Credit where it is due. The Edinburgh Fringe held its nerve and salvaged a festival of sorts long after almost everybody had written it off for a second year running. Whilst festivals in England such as Brighton and Buxton were bouncing back, in Scotland there was a ridiculous rule that theatre – and only theatre – had to have a two-metre distance. The reason why this rule didn’t apply to pubs in spite of pubs being a far greater danger was never explained, leading some people to suspect live events were being targetted on purpose as some sort of “bleeding stump” tactic. But at the last moment a bailout from the Scottish Government and, to a lesser extent, a relaxation of the rules (lesser extent because the big venues had factored in two metres by this point), allowed something to go ahead.

Inevitably, a last-minute fringe could only be a fraction of the size of a normal year. By registrations, it was 20% of a normal year, but many of those were online (more on this later), and those that were in person rarely ran the full festival. As a result, the number of performances of offer each day were tiny compared to before times when you’d have a choice things available in walking distance in the next ten minutes. The audience numbers also plummeted, with those present generally being the hard-core regulars who were determined to be there no matter what.

But – and this is the big but – audience numbers did not fall as much as performance numbers. As a result, the numbers per performance were generally excellent. In 2019, selling a third of your tickets was considered reasonably good – my own observation, backed up by available stats, however, suggested that three quarters full was more the norm here, from the biggest names to the humblest beginners. I suspect a lot of punters who’d decided against taking a play to Edinburgh this year are now wishing they hadn’t. I’m one of those people. The only down-side is that there were times when finding a ticket for anything was a nightmare.

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Roundup: Buxton Fringe 2021

Buxton Crescent

Skip to: Naughty Boy, Jekyll and Hyde, For I Have Sinned, Mike Raffone’s Great Green Gameshow Giveaway, The Virtuous Burglar

Phew. A lot of catching up to do when you have four fringes in three months, but I’m finally on to Buxton Fringe. In 2020, Buxton Fringe raised a few eyebrows by opting to stick with a July fringe, even if it all had to be done online. However, in line with pretty much everywhere else, the mood by July 2021 was that online was all very well as a stop-gap, but nothing beats the real thing.

Buxton’s fortunes broadly followed the same as Brighton. In theory, Buxton Fringe was down for the first full month of no social distancing, but the venues worked against social distancing anyway – quite wisely, as it turned out. Like Brighton, it wasn’t back to full strength just yet: the Rotunda opted to give 2021 a miss, and the Arts Centre was out of action as Buxton Festival needed the space as part of its own socially distanced plans. This plus reduced participation from groups dented the numbers, but not too badly, with the Fringe managing about 60% of its normal size.

There was just one subtle difference I picked up on the effects on Buxton compared to Brighton. Audience numbers were also down, but roughly down by the same amount as registrations, and the two cancelled out to give audience numbers that were roughly the same, similar to Brighton. But within those figures, there’s a skew with age. Anecdotally, I was hearing that a lot of older Buxton Fringe regulars were choosing to play it safe and give it a miss; if that was the case, it would seem that the younger regulars were more eager to get back to fringing.

Anyway, hopefully those details won’t matter by Fringe 2022. In spite of Omnicrom putting the willies up us this winter, I still think Brighton and Buxton will be in a good position to be back to near-normal by next July. Let’s see what caught my eye this year that might be around next year.

Pick of the fringe:

Firstly, let’s address the same question as Brighton Fringe: am I lowering the bar this year? It is true that my choosiness for Pick of the Fringe varies based on what I have to choose from, but in the end the standard was about the same as years before, even though there were fewer acts to choose from. Two plays made it to the top flight.

Naughty Boy

There are many thing a fringe is ideal for, but responding to current events is rarely one of them. Most plays need a lead-in of least six months if you’re lucky, and by the time you’ve got it in front of an audience the news has long since ceased to be in people’s minds. There’s really only one way to make a fringe event “timely”, and that’s if the topic you’re talking about crops up anyway, and that bit of luck counted in Eddy Brimson’s favour. It was only the month before that football hooligans made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Joe, however, is not your average football hooligan. For some reason, he is in a psychiatric hospital even though he appears perfectly sane. He is also a lot smarter than your average football hooligan, whose silver tongue gets him out of all sorts of scrapes. These two events are connected, but it’s only towards the end what we’ll see how.

The main thrust of the play, however, is an exploration of why people end up this way. Being articulate, Joe has little problem portraying the alienation of people like him in societies than have been written off. This, plus his cynical observations of the society around him, is the easy bit. The hard bit is explaining why you’d consider the solution joining a group of your mates to clout a bunch of strangers who simply support a different team – and he portrays quite a convincing reason. Why take your anger out on another bunch of downtrodden down-and-outs? The reason, the play suggests, is a mutual understanding. Clouting any of the random strangers Joe cynically observes has consequences when the Police get involved, but a rival gang of hooligans are in the same boat as you. Until it escalates.

The backstory of how Joe got where he was is handled well too. The full-journey from innocent childhood to violent embittered adults is not shown in its entirety, but one moment that sticks out is when two wannabe hooligans get set upon by his gang of veteran hooligans – to which Joe observes “Now you have the same anger we do.” The only weak point I’d pick out is the account of the inevitable fight at the end where things tip over to boiling point, which get quite complicated and was narrated through so quickly I lost track of who was fighting who and who suffered what injuries. Other than that, a good all-rounder making a good start to my relaunched fringe viewing.

Jekyll and Hyde: a one woman-show

Now for the big name. I was interested in this one for two reasons. Firstly, this play got going in Brighton Fringe last year and earned overwhelming critical acclaim. Heather Rose-Andrews is rising to be of the most respected names on the Brighton Fringe circuit, but how would she fare away from home turf. The other thing I was interested in is how a gender-swapped Jekyll and Hyde would work. This has been tried a lot with classic stories, and not always successfully. Blackeyed Theatre is currently touring a superb retelling of Jekyll and Hyde which adds in a prominent female character made to look like she was part of the original all along. But this one changes the gender of Dr. Jekyll himself. How much difference does this make to the story?

Well, the answer is the opposite of what I expected: not that much difference at all. To some extent, this is a perfectly plausible treatment of the story – whilst women were certainly treated very differently to men in Victorian society, with Dr. Jekyll already operating outside of society’s conventions it needn’t spell much change. Instead, what’s notable is how much stays the same. Nothing stops a Ms. Hyde being as violent and destructive as a Mr. Hyde. Even the bit from the original where Hyde savages a prostitute – surely there can be no act of violence more misogynistic than that one? – is swapped very convincingly. And Rose-Andrews’ transformation scene from Jekyll in pain to a swaggering Hyde is an astounding moment of theatre.

According to my Buxton radar, this didn’t enjoy the same universal level of praise that this did in Brighton. Gauging reaction from Buxton is harder because there isn’t a range of reviews to go on, but I gather opinion was more divided, and I suspect the weak point was accessibility. Heather Rose-Andrews knows her horror and classic literature inside out, but I suspect she’s assumed a lot of background knowledge of her audience and left some with a lot of catching up to do. It was only quite late in to the play that I realised the tapes she was playing were Jekyll’s instructions recorded for Hyde. One theme of the play is hypocrisy, and as fans of the original will know, Dr. Jekyll overstepped the line long before his alter ego came along – but I fear amongst the confusion of working out what was happening when, I missed whatever the moral of that was supposed to be.

The praise for her performance, however, was unanimous, and deservedly so. In other Sweet Productions play I saw this year, There’s a Ghost in my House, I was convinced that Emily Carding had best individual performance in the bag, but it looks like we have a contest on our hands after all. It is difficult to know if this script could be made more accessible without making it into a different play; it may well be that this will be enjoyed the best by those who know the literature the best. What it does show is that Heather Rose-Andrews, already a fine actor in other people’s plays, is at her strongest when she writes for herself. A lot to look forward to here I think.

Honourable mention:

As there were fewer plays to choose from, I saw more comedy than usual. I’ve left this out as I don’t really know where to start with sketch and stand-up. Again, my bar for honourable mention is about the same as before, and three plays (or two plays plus a character comedy) made it to the list:

For I have Sinned

In Qweerdog Theatre’s play, a man meets a priest in a confession box. As per the protocol he is asked to disclose how long it has been since his last confession, and the answer is decades. What is less clear is what he’s actually making a confession over. He spent a long time as a recluse in Tibet, so we can safely assume he has something more on his conscience that an impure thought whilst watching an Ann Summers advert. Instead, the priest goes for small-talk as a way to delve into the truth. Eventually, the story comes out of a younger boy who thought the world of this man when they were both teenagers. We can already guess this did not end well.

What I really liked about the opening half of the writing is the pace at which the truth comes out. Whenever you think you’ve got to the bottom of his cross to bear, something else comes out, then something else, then something else. But the last piece of the jigsaw to fall into place is the priest’s part in this. An early clue is the man making a quip about seeing if “you’re the right priest for me”, and a more blatant clue is the priest offering full absolution in order to end the confession. I’ll refrain from giving all the details, but there is a reason why it’s this particular priest.

And then comes the frustrating bit: after the first half of the play reveals the back story so well, very little unexpected happens in the second. I fear this script played all its best cards by the half-way point, and the rest of the play is mostly admonishment for the priests past that he continues to deny. Something extra, I feel, is needed to keep up the interest. For what it’s worth, I would have explored the priest’s own intersection between his faith and his morals. Is his lifetime of servitude to the Catholic Church his method of atonement for a past wrong he can never forgive himself for? Or is he one of these completely amoral characters who think it’s okay to hurt and betray whoever you like because you can repent and be absolved later?

Not bad for a Buxton fringe debut though. The strength of the exposition is that is keeps the audience interested, and keeps them guessing. Keep this up in the rest of the play and you’ll have something special.

Mike Raffone’s Great Green Gameshow Giveaway

This is under comedy rather than theatre, but it’s character comedy that has an overlap. Mike Raffone has been carving himself a niche with interactive comedy in the last few years. There are high stakes in interactive comedy – in a conventional play an audience can be unresponsive and still find the story hilarious or moving, but when a performance depends on audience interaction, it dies on its arse if you can’t get them going. I’ve only seen his performances on busy days, but apparently he’s achieved the same on quiet days. Anyway, the thing he’s started this year is a spoof game show.

The game shows it parodies, are the 1970s ones. Apart from the outfits, there are two things that distinguish the game shows of this era. Firstly, all 1970s game shows are required to have a female assistant, who in turn is required to do nothing but announce the scores and pretend to find the sleazy-looking middle-age male host attractive. And certainly not play the flute that Charlotti worked so hard on over lockdown. Secondly, the long-standing in-joke is that all the prizes were worthless, with limit on prizes being £500 and a Skoda or something like that.

Mike Raffone and Charlotti are actually a great double act, and if I didn’t know better I’d have sworn they must have must have performed for years together. The games are far sillier than the games from the game shows (I think they would even give Banzai a run for its money), and the prizes are even more worthless – indeed, one highlight was, when there was a dispute over who won a round, he pointed to an example prize of a slightly broken USB cable to show how little this matters. And the final round, in case you haven’t guessed, is like the conveyor belt from the generation game, but with far cheaper prizes, slightly broken USB cable included. This is such a ideal thing for Raffone it’s a wonder no-one thought of it before, but now that we’ve seen it I hope it this will be back.

The Virtuous Burglar

And finally, one from Buxton regulars Sudden Impulse. They advertise themselves an an amateur company but their standard is so good it’s hard to tell them apart from the pros. I caught one of their two productions this time, and it’s a Dario Fo farce. The description of “farce” is often over-used for plays that were never meant to work as farces, and indeed Dario Fo himself has a strong political strand in most of his farces, but this one is the full-blown farce. A burglar is busy burgling a wealthy house when his wife rings him (this is pre-mobile phones so she is ringing the phone on the house she’s burgling tonight) asking for a present to steal for her. Then the owner of the house returns with a woman who’s not his wife. I don’t need to explain the rest of the plot but basically everybody mistakes everybody’s identity, everybody’s having an affair with everyone, and there’s lots of doors (and inside of clocks) to hide in. The only thing that’s missing is the trousers falling down as the vicar walks in.

Some people say amateur companies shouldn’t do farces. The reason, they argue, is that farces only work if they’re done quickly. Run a farce at a speed the actors are comfortable with and the jokes fall flat, but run it at the required speed beyond the actors’ ability and the production falls apart completely. Sudden Impulse has shown that’s far from the truth. They zip through the lines at the warp speed it was written for, and the movement is choreographed well. In a farce, you only really notice the acting and directing if it goes pear-shaped, so getting through without incident is a bigger achievement that most people realise.

The was, however, one annoying artistic decision, and that was hamming up the characters. No matter how ridiculous the situations are that everybody finds themselves in, farce works best when the characters are believable. It’s never quite as funny if the characters do contrived things to set up the jokes, and better if that’s what they would plausibly have done anyway – but it’s hard to achieve the latter if you present all the characters and caricatures of themselves. And that’s a shame, because straight acting is something Sudden Impulse does well. I say have the courage to apply straight acting to the giddiest farce – you may be pleased with the result.

Postscript: Keith Savage

Keith Savage under an umbrella

As I have already mentioned, circumstances have forced me to write late roundups of the fringes. Since Buxton Fringe happened, there is one notable bit of news, and it’s a sad one. Keith Savage, who was Chair in Buxton Fringe from 2014 to 2019, died unexpectedly this month, and it would be write to close this roundup without a fitting tribute.

Many people have given there own tributes of how supportive Keith Savage was at previous fringes, and my experience was no exception. As both a performer and a theatre blogger he was constantly encouraging what I was doing. This matter a lot. There’s no shortage of arts leaders who fall over themselves to encourage the biggest and best names to their theatres and there festivals, but sadly too few who welcome the people starting off. I cannot begin to describe how much of a difference it makes from my experience back home when you can put so much in without even an acknowledgement of what you’ve done.

Buxton Fringe prides itself on being the friendly fringe, and I even know of performers who’ve decided top give Buxton a go based on my description of what it’s like. I am confident that the Fringe committee will carry on giving the welcome to future performers staring off, but there’s sure no better embodiment of it than Keith Savage, who carried on supporting the fringe and everyone taking part after stepping down.

He has a lot to be proud of. He will be missed.

Roundup: Brighton Fringe 2021

There’s a Ghost in my House, Between Two Waves, About the Garden, The Tragedy of Dorian Gray, Watson: the Final Problem; The Spirit of Woodstock; The Indecent Musings of Miss Doncaster 2007; The Doll Who Came To Tea; Polly: A Drag Rebellion; Crime Scene Improvisation; Clean: The Musical; Police Cops: Badass Be Thy Name; The Importance of Being … Earnest?; The Sensemaker

Right. Better get a move on with these. I have had the excuse of having my hands full with four fringes in three months, but it’s now October. So let’s begin with Brighton. And, boy, what a festival they had.

The year began on tenterhooks when it became unclear whether live performances would be allowed in May at all. Brighton Fringe opted to postpone itself by three weeks, so that the fringe would take place over mostly June instead of May. In the end, that turned out to be a very good call. With the go-ahead for live performances turning out to be only 11 days before the start of the fringe, to festival turned into a big celebration of the arts getting going again. I don’t have definitive figures for how this compares to a normal year, but by all account the level of business was excellent, for both the acts taking part and the social aspect of the Warren and Spiegeltent’s bars.

The only dampener on this success is that it could have been even more earth-shattering. In spite of some very last-minute organisation, Brighton Fringe managed to be about 50% of its normal size, give or take a bit depending on whether you count online. But it was during June when serious questions were being raised over whether its Edinburgh counterpart would go ahead at all, owing to some absurd restrictions in Scotland specifically applied to the performing arts. With a very late go-ahead, and Edinburgh’s programme announced towards the end of Brighton Fringe, the jaw-dropping news was that it was less than a third the size of Brighton’s. In the end, Edinburgh pipped Brighton into the lead at the last moment – the Big Four venues programmed themselves very late on – but the fact that a half-size Brighton Fringe was two weeks away from taking the title as Britain’s largest fringe is staggering.

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Online theatre roundup 2

Skip to: Dirty Laundry, In Plain Sight, Nonsense and Sensibility, and Jesus Christ Superstar

Ho hum, my last online theatre roundup was supposed to be my only article about online theatre. I was intending to get back to proper theatre by now. But with the lurgi refusing to make an exist without being as big of a pain in the arse as possible on its exit, I’m still on this.

A small list this time, and I’ve already caught up with most of the things I wanted to catch up on, but I have four things for you before we get back to normal service.

Dirty Laundry

This one, I confess, should have been reviewed last time round, but I forgot. Better late than never, I hope.

Two years ago, Conrad Nelson and Deborah McAndrew pulled one of theatre’s bigger surprises.* They had risen through the ranks of Northern Broadsides to produce their own plays in their own style to huge acclaim, and when long-standing Artistic Director Barrie Rutter left, Conrad Nelson became his interim replacement. I assumed he had the permanent post in the bag, but not only did he step down, he and his wife decided it was time for a change and left the company completely. Instead, they decided to put all their energy into what started off as their side-project: Claybody Theatre. Unlike the Broadsiders, this was a very local company producing plays of interest to Stoke-on-Trent. As a result, they have very much dropped out of the national spotlight. But not my spotlight, because I happen to have a sister who lives there.

*: At least surprising by pre-2020 standards of surprise.

With one of their first Claybody plays, Dirty Laundry, now made available as an audio play, I took the chance to see what they were up to. And if you’re a fan of their Broadsides work, the first thing than strikes you is what a different direction they’re going in; the second thing that may strike you is how much more specialist the appeal is. The target audience here is Stokies through and through, and more specifically, Stokies who know about the Six Towns’ long history with pottery. I’ve only recently learnt about it myself – and it’s fair to say that if you know nothing about Stoke or Pottery this story may not grab your attention – but I have learnt enough to appreciate how well McAndrew has done her homework here.

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Roundup: Brighton Fringe 2020

REVIEWS: Skip to: Unmythable, Privates, Shit-Faced Shakespeare, West End on Sea, Savage Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Toby Belch is Unwell, Geoff Mead’s tours, Daphna Baram

Late to the party as usual, and this is is already becoming a footnote in the ongoing saga, but Brighton Fringe 2020 still deserves its place in the records.

Brighton Fringe 2020 might have escaped the fate of Edinburgh Fringe 2020, but it still took a major clobbering. There was a time – whilst Coronavirus projections were more optimistic and many theatres were predicting a September reopening – when Brighton Fringe might have been in a position to take the Edinburgh refugees and take the limelight usually reserved from the big one. In the end, it was touch and go whether a postponed autumn fringe would happen at all, for more than one reason. But in the end, it went ahead, with a lot of caveats over what going ahead actually means.

But whilst I did of course see what I could see and say what I think, the bigger story here is what this means for the future of the fringes. There were some questions over how fringes would work under current climes, and other questions over what this meant specifically for Brighton. And in my various visits to Brighton, I learned a lot. As such, this is going to be different from my normal roundup. Usually I would go straight into reviews; this time, however, the focus is on the fringe as a whole.

What I learned about Brighton 2020

So, this year I visited Brighton not once but three times this year. One was a two-day binge during fringe proper, one was as I happened to be passing through Brighton on my annual holiday, and other one I’ll get on to in a moment.

2020: the fragmented fringe

Without major venues such as Spiegeltent and major events such as The Lady Boys on Bangkok, what has the centrepiece of the fringe? What was the iconic image? Talk to any layman and the answer you’ll probably get is the venue on the beach. The Warren – normally Brighton Fringe’s biggest venue by a long way – used their expertise in constructing pop-up venues to create a socially-distanced outdoor venue on the beach. It was a huge gamble, verging on reckless, with less than a month between the Government’s go-ahead on outdoor performance and the opening of the festival. As it turned out, it was a great success, with an excellent turnout and attracting even bigger names than The Warren does in a normal year. In fact, hastily-planned pop-up outdoor festivals have been the big success story in an otherwise dire year. It’s a pity more theatres with access to outdoor spaces didn’t strike whilst the iron was hot.

However, The Warren Outdoors was not actually part of Brighton Fringe. They didn’t wait for a decision on a postponed autumn fringe, and arguably couldn’t afford to wait – it’s hard to imagine this working nearly so well had it run September-October instead of August-September. However, alongside The Warren Outdoors came their new year-round venue Electric Arcade, but although this ran events into October this too stayed out of the official fringe listings. As far as I’m concerned, this all counts as Fringe on an unofficial basis, but the lack of affiliation meant that Brighton Fringe lost out of registration fee income it could have done with. And it’s a reminder – similar to the Big Four in Edinburgh – that the Fringe’s power is not absolute, and for better or worse, temporarily or permanently, big venues can break away if they want to. Beware.

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Roundup: Vault Festival 2020

Skip to: Glitch, Skank, King Boris III

I have one last thing to catch up on for theatre prior to The Event, and that is the Vault Festival. This is going to be a short roundup, because – in order to juggle things around a very congested winter calendar – I split my visit over the last two weekends. And as we all know, the last week did not go ahead. The weekend before was not unscathed either, with one notable casualty being the Sunday performances of 39 Degrees which I wanted to see.

As always, not everything I see gets a review, so we’re down to three. But out of these three, there was an exceptional standard, far in excess of a normal Vault itinerary. Let’s see what we’ve got.

Glitch

This is difficult one to review impartially. It resonated a lot with me personally, and had I been reviewing this for a different publication I would have asked for a second opinion from someone more detached. But sod it, it’s my blog, I can say what I want, and if I don’t say this, I’m not sure anyone else will.

Glitch is set in the world of speed-runs. I actually know what speed-runs are (don’t ask me why, you don’t need to know), but if you don’t, this will need a bit of explaining. Not to be confused with e-sports (don’t get her started on e-sports), this is a special kind of computer game competition where you have to get from beginning to end as quickly as possible, cheating allowed*. Reckon you could quickly defeat all nine bosses in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? Loo-ser. There are defect in the code that enable you to zip from first dungeon to last. Eight minutes easy. Yes, really. There is even niche following, and it’s when a contest comes to Sutward that Kelly has a chance to take part.

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Roundup: Edinburgh Fringe 2019

REVIEWS: Skip to: The Red, Testament of Yootha, Great Grimm Tales, The Red Hourglass, The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show, Will, or Eight lost years in Shakespeare’s Life, The Rebirth of Meadow Rain, Rich Bitch, Moby Dick, Princess Party, Myra, Showstopper, Bad Girls Upset by the Truth, Stanley

Oh shit, it’s nearly 2020. I really ought to start my Edinburgh Fringe coverage in the same year. Seriously though, apologies for everyone waiting to see their name in lights in the roundup – I won’t repeat the circumstances that caused me to fall behind so much, but I’ve touched on it in the last two articles. But that’s hopefully behind me now. So let’s make a start on this.

Last year’s big theme of Edinburgh Fringe was the cost of taking part in this fringe. This year, the debate has moved on to the size. Size and cost have always been linked, but this time round the debate has widened to the effect on the city of Edinburgh as a whole. Does the fringe make the city unusable for the people who live there? Some people say breaking point is being reached. The most notable thing, however, is now what’s being said, but what’s not being said. Only a few year ago, announcements that the fringe was its biggest ever were shouted from the rooftops by the Festival Fringe Society – this year, they barely mentioned this.

One stat that is watched very closely is whether ticket sales growth is keeping up with growth of the fringe. The simplified theory has always been that if the fringe grows by x%, ticket sales must grow by x% to keep it sustainable, but is this too simplistic? This year the growth was very uneven over different venues. But there’s no easy way to control the numbers at an open festival, and we will just have to wait and see next year what becomes of this. Continue reading

Roundup: Buxton Fringe 2019

IMG_0059

REVIEWS: Skip to: Green Knight, Old Bones, Desert Bloom, An Audience with Yasmine Day, The Grandmothers Grimm, Author, Composer, Soldier of Sorts, We Apologise for the Inconvenience, Tangletree, Impostors, Fern Hill and other Dylan Thomas, 11 Reasons

Apologies for the lateness of the Buxton and Edinburgh Fringe roundups – I am currently in the thick of a house move that has taken up most of my time and energy. But these reviews aren’t going to write themselves and the backlog is getting bigger, so let’s get to it.

So Buxton has had its 40th anniversary fringe this year, and with it an extra three days were added to the festival – officially a one-off, but in practice it’s surely testing the water. As a result, Buxton ended up with its biggest fringe to date, with a record breaking 213 events, up from the PB of 183 in 2017. (The increase in performances was even more dramatic, at 750 up from previous record of 500, although this figure is artificially inflated by an unusually high number of fine art and site-specific performances – see my Buxton Fringe preview if you want more number-crunching.) So the next question was whether the fringe could sustain these extra three days – after all, this could decide whether the longer fringe becomes permanent.

Based on my observations, the answer appears to be “yes”. I am not aware of any official figures that would give us clues one way or the other (as Buxton has no central booking office there’s not really any way of keeping track of sales), but the mood amongst everyone I asked was that ticket sales were going well. I suppose on thing I didn’t get an answer to was what sales were like in the extra three days at the end of the fringe – if they tailed off that would dampen expectations. Whatever the truth, we will find out Buxton Fringe’s reaction by December, when registrations for 2020 open.

But that’s enough speculation for later. Let’s get on with the reviews.

Pick of the Fringe:

I managed to pack quite a lot in to Buxton this time round. But in the end, however, there were three obvious front-runners out of all I saw. Normally, as the biggest venue, Underground Venues dominates the listings, but this time another venue is a suprise winner, thanks to a joint colloboration from two groups that this venue chose to champion.

The three picks of the fringe are:

Green Knight

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Debbie Cannon’s writing and performance is sometimes billed as storytelling and sometimes billed as theatre, but Green Knight fits very comfortably into both. An impoverished woman is handing herself over to the convent, but before she does, she tells a story she knows about King Arthur. It is, of course, the tale of Sir Gawain, but in this story she is the woman who tempted Gawain into dishonour. But, as with many of the best retellings, something new is brought to this. None of the events of Gawain and the Green Knight are changed, but the nameless wife of Bertilak de Hautdesert takes on a very different role. In the original, her sole role is a temptress; in this, she’s still still a temptress – but not entirely by choice. She’s in love with this perfect chivalrous man who’s come into her life. Added to this, she only married to escape her own father, and her husband is, to be honest, a bit of a cock; so Gawain is, for all his restraint and honour, inadvertently leading her into temptation as much as she’s leading him.

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Roundup: Brighton Fringe 2019

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REVIEWS: Skip to: Wolf Tamer, Sary, I Am a Camera, Freak, Ross and Rachel, Be More Martyn, Here We Are Again, Bright Raven, Taboo

Another Brighton Fringe has come and gone. It’s been quite a busy one for me as, all of a sudden, I’ve been kept busy with review requests. It would appear that I’ve managed to end up on a list of press contacts somewhere. But that’s great – it’s a lot more worthwhile reviewing plays when I know the people involved want a review from me.

For fringe news as a whole, it’s been a bit of a slow news fringe. There was some steady growth this year, nothing as earth-shattering at 2016, but enough to keep moving. Within these steady-looking numbers, however, there’s been a lot of rearrangement: The Warren moved next to Spiegeltent and expanded its number of spaces, Sweet Venues ditched the Dukebox and re-focused its operations (including year-round operations) on The Werks, and Junkyard Dogs took on a new Fringe venue at the Brighthelm Centre with three spaces. One effect of this is that The Warren is now by far the biggest venue in Brighton. Could it become too big and too powerful? For an answer to this and other partient questions about all things fringe, you might like to read my interview with Richard Stamp. Continue reading