COMMENT: It’s right for theatres to take action on mental health projects, but they have to understand the problems, not just give a generic leg-up.
This is an article that, a few years ago, I would have had no intention of writing. Those of you who know me will be aware I have a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. That diagnosis came about under some pretty horrendous circumstances that have nothing to do with theatre; this is not the place for a blow-by-blow account of that – if you want to read about that you can read about it here and here. One of the earliest decisions I made on finding out about this is that I wanted no special treatment from anyone, in theatre or elsewhere. So after that, I carried on doing what I was doing and barely mentioned it.
However, as anyone who has followed this blog may have noticed, more recently I have been getting noisier on this issue. One of the first things that prompted me to speak out was ITV’s awful hypocrisy over Susan Boyle and their selective freak-show mentality. But the things that’s mostly prompted me to speak out isn’t what I expected. A big thing has been made of diverse programming in the last few years ago. In principle that’s a good thing, and I’m not going to spend the article getting involved in any of those debates other than the one that concerns me. But for people like me, I have found a lot of these initiatives to be simplistic, and, in some cases, misguided. Late last year I did a guest post from someone who I believe understands the issues and does something about it – but I’m also seeing a lot of back-patting over things that aren’t helpful.
So it’s February 7th, and it’s Time to Talk day. This day seems to be mostly about positively sharing stories of mental health, but I want to talk about being included. Now, I’ve said before I don’t know whether my Asperger’s has been a help or a hindrance. Indeed, there is an argument that it’s been a net benefit, because in a place where support for aspiring theatre-makers was next to non-existent, the only people who stuck at it were people like me who develop obsessive interests to the exclusion of everything else – so when an local opportunity finally came along, I was the first/only person in the queue. But I’m also identifying areas where I believe there are barriers, and I don’t believe enough people realise these barriers exist to do anything about it. Continue reading →
The Wind in the Willows is one of the longest-running family Christmas productions in regional theatre – and seeing it for myself, it’s easy to understand why.
What do moles and rats do when spring arrives? Go out for an idyllic boating ride and picnic, of course. “But wait,” I hear you say, “aren’t rowing boats a bit big for a mole and a rat?” Honestly, don’t you know anything? In the early 20th century, moles and ratties and badgers were all human-sized and did human-sized things, mixing with humans and subject to human laws of the land and all that. This, at least, was the premise of Kenneth Grahame’s book, originally meant as a bed-time story and ending up an accidental children’s classic. But the reason the book endures in so many memories is of course our hero, or rather anti-hero. Mr. Toad, the wealthy but vain owner of Toad Hall, is not arrogant as such: simply a flawed individual who is – if you will pardon the mixed metaphor – only human.
This depiction of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr. Toad as only human was, perhaps, a driver for Theresa Heskins’ choice of how to bring this to the stage at the New Vic. Plenty of adaptations use make-up or masks to represent the animals – here, however, they are better described as human embodiments of the animals they represent. The ensemble of eleven never have more than a pair of ears or a tail to show which animal they are – and it works. Because this adaptation is not using tweeness as its selling point, but instead, human personalities working and conflicting with each other: Mole, keen to be friends with everyone; Ratty, pragmatic and easy-going; and Badger, the one who knows Mr. Toad best. Mr. Toad, by all rights, ought to be the villain of the piece, throwing lavish parties to big up his own ego, never feel sorry for anyone but himself, always frittering money away on the latest fad – but he’s such an idiot over all this he becomes a lovable idiot, desperately needing his friend to protect him from himself and his new-found love of easily-crashable motor cars. Continue reading →
It’s finally happened. Many times I’ve thought not a lot happened but ended up with loads to report, but this time, I’ve scoured far and wide for interesting news and discovered it really is a slow month news for once. So let’s get this over and done with:
Stuff that happened in October:
Not much, but amongst the not much going on is:
Junkyard Dogs expands in Brighton
So starting in Brighton this time, the bit of news that caught my eye is Junkyard Dogs. If you come to Brighton Fringe for the theatre, Junkyard Dogs may pass you by completely, because this is a venue that is dominated by comedy. But this venue has still managed to build a stellar reputation. having been voted Best Venue in the last two years. (Public votes should normally be treated with caution as they are open to vote-packing, but everybody I know who’s expressed an opinion on Junkyard Dogs has spoken very highly of them.) However, as a single-space 35-seater venue, so far this venue has kept a low profile compared to The Warren, Sweet and Spiegeltent. But that might be about to change. According to Brighton Fringe, next year they will have two black box spaces. This takes them up to three, just one behind the number of spaces used by Sweet and The Warren last year (albeit bigger spaces). Continue reading →
One of the early hits on my blog were my guides I wrote for the Brighton, Buxton and Edinburgh Fringes. Brighton was the original inspiration – as someone who’d previously been used to Edinburgh, Brighton was a very different environment to get used to. I was supposed to do updated versions every year, but, true to form, I was too disorganised to keep that up and the latest version of “How to make the most of the Brighton Fringe” was written in 2014.
I was thinking of doing an update, but it then occurred to me the more interesting thing is the record of what it used to be like. A lot has changed since then. Looking through the things I listed back then, it’s remarkable how much is different now. So, for a new angle, and because Buzzfeed has decreed that articles are now only permitted if they’re done in lists, here’s my observations on everything that’s changed.
1: It’s bigger
In 2007, there were 323 shows. (For comparison, that’s slightly under twice the present-day size of Buxton Fringe, a tiny fringe by today’s standards.) Now, it’s more like 1,000. Not that you need stats to tell you this – it’s an obvious difference to anyone who remembers back that far. But stats are immune from selective memory, and that confirms just what the extent of the change is.
I could end the list here. Pretty much everything else is a consequence of this unprecedented expansion. Some changes were easy to predict, some not so easy. But almost everything that is different about Brighton Fringe now can be traced back to this growth.
2: It opens with a firework display
The opening ceremony is a recent addition, coming to Brighton Fringe in 2016. In priciple, this makes little difference to the fringe itself – the plays, comedy and so on won’t be any better or worse because of some fireworks. But it was a huge statement of status that Brighton Fringe can now afford to do this, and a landmark to its expansion. Continue reading →
And here we go. Time to start festival fringe coverage for 2018. Anyone who was itching for something like the Edinburgh Fringe had the Vault Festival to tide them over, but that is curated by the organisers. This time (and again in July and August), no such power exists. Anyone can be part of this festival, and whilst you can get various leg-ups from venues, the media or the Fringe Committee itself, the ultimate power lies with the audience. They decide who the biggest successes shall be.
The last two Brighton Fringes oversaw unprecedented expansion and a lot of changes that came with it. This year, however, there’s few changes. Sweet Venues has ditched Sweet Waterfront and instead taken Sweet Werks, the Old Courtroom has reappeared as a fringe venue, but other than that it’s really a consolidation of the growth in 2015-2016.
But you already knew that, didn’t you? You want me to get on with my list of picks? As you wish. Let us begin. Continue reading →
Holy shit, six years. Don’t I have anything better to do? But as WordPress has been keen to remind me, that’s how long I’ve been running this blog. Three years ago, I wrote What I’ve learned from three years of theatre blogging. It’s interesting for me to read my old articles, but looking at this now, there’s nothing where I’ve really changed my mind.
But now I’ve made it to six years (and I vigorously deny all those vicious rumours that I planned to do this for five years but I never got round to it), it’s a good time to add some new things. Some of them things I was close to learning anyway – on or two, however, are eye-openers, and not in a good way.
1: You have responsibilities
When I started doing this on a whim back in 2012, the last thing I imagined is that this would actually matter. Most plays, I just assumed, got plenty of “proper” reviews, and mine would be added to the pile. The most difference I thought this would make is that it would provide some constructive feedback that performers would be free to heed or ignore as they pleased.
What I hadn’t realised was how rare a commodity a review is. Outside of productions programmed by major theatres, it’s difficult to get any kind of coverage. Your review in a self-published blog may be the only one. It could be the only source of constructive feedback a group gets. You could be the only evidence a group has when making an arts council grant. It could spell the difference with whether or not other review publications give them a chance in the future. Continue reading →