Roundup: Brighton Fringe 2013

Okay, I’m back from Brighton and have now finished expanding my speedy error-strewn reviews into something longer. (See also What’s Worth Watching for plays I’ve seen at previous Fringes but didn’t catch this time – this list is for plays I saw at this Fringe.) Apologies for anyone waiting for reviews from more local plays – I will clear the backlog soon. Anyway, I saw 13 productions at the Brighton Fringe this year, and as per last time, I’ve found the overall average standard to be better than Edinburgh. In fact, I’d say only one play was mediocre – I won’t say which one, but it was a bit of devised theatre. I’ve noticed devised theatre is a problematic area (albeit one which can be fantastic if you get it right), so I think I’ll write my thoughts about this another time.

To repeat the rules: this is the stuff that stood out for me – and at Brighton, where the average standard is pretty good, this is a tough bar to clear. What I’ve seen is heavily influenced by when I was there and what happened to be on at the right time, so this list should be considered a cross-section of the plays out there rather than a comprehensive assessment of everything out there. Indeed, anyone who claims to have single-handedly picked out all the best plays in the Brighton Fringe is lying. Anyway, here is your cross-section … Continue reading


Richmond’s Georgian Theatre next?

Picture of Georgian Theatre

One bit of concerning news from North Yorkshire today: the Georgian Theatre in Richmond is launching an appeal fund to – so the Georgian Theatre Trust claims –  save it from closure. There’s no immediate plans to close the theatre, but the concern is that as public funding streams have dried up with the various cuts, the theatre cannot continue to break even on box office and bar sales alone.

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Antidotes to girlie theatre

All-female theatre doesn’t have to be garish entertainment. Two Newcastle plays on this week, Open Clasp’s The Space Between Us and The Killing of Sister George at the People’s Theatre shows what else you can do.

Look, I like women. Most of my friends are female. But I cannot stand girlie entertainment. It took me years to years to recover from the Spice Girls and painful pseudo-feminism. Just when I thought it was safe to go outside, what I do I find plastered over every theatre? Girls Night, set in a karaoke bar featuring songs such as “I Will Survive” and “It’s Raining Men”. Already I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Lauded by critics as  Sex and the City meets Mamma Mia! Not good. Pink glow sticks for the audience. Eeek. And the plot? Apparently five women representing the five “types” on a night out: one “born to party”, one who “says it like it is”, one with “issues”, one “boring but handy for driving”, and one “not so angelic angel.” Oh please … Actually, I think might be a blueprint for my afterlife when I die and get sent to Hell.

(Okay, and to give credit where it’s due, this is not some manufactured bum-on-seats product devised by marketing executives, but a play that writer Louise Roche originally put on off her own back without any big players backing her. For that, and getting a smash hit on audience popularity alone, she has my respect. I suppose I shouldn’t really judge this without seeing it for myself; it’s just that if I had to sit through this, I fear I may go insane.)

But help is at hand. All-female plays don’t have to be garish froth. They can be intelligent and thought-provoking too, and two that have been in Newcastle this week are Open Clasp’s The Space Between Us and The Killing of Sister George at the People’s Theatre.

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The Brighton Fringe survival guide

UPDATE: This was a guide I wrote for the 2013 Brighton Fringe. I have now done an update for 2014: nothing different, just a few additions and clarifications. Read the new version here, or view the old version for posterity.

Much as I love the Edinburgh Fringe, the down-side is that after it ends, you’ve got to wait eleven months before the next one. That’s why some fans of the festival fringe format look towards other open-access festivals, and the obvious choice is the Brighton Fringe: the second largest in the UK, largest in England, and the third largest in the world after Adelaide. It’s in May, which leaves a reasonable gap from the Edinburgh Fringe three months later, whilst offering decent weather on the beach.

However, if you have previously been to the Edinburgh Fringe and want to add Brighton to your list, you need to be aware that it’s not just a smaller-scale copy of its Scottish cousin. Unlike Edinburgh, where the audience is dominated by people visiting from all over the country, in Brighton the audiences are mostly locals, plus a contingent of Londoners on weekend visits. As a result, there are a lot of things that make the Brighton Fringe different. Here are a few tip I have from anyone new to the Brighton Fringe who’s previously been to Edinburgh: Continue reading

What’s worth watching: Brighton Fringe 2013

Well, it’s been seven months since the Edinburgh Fringe has come and gone, and for some of us that’s just too long to wait. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait much longer, because Brighton Fringe is coming. It’s like the Edinburgh Fringe, but in May. And not in Edinburgh. If you’ve not been to the Brighton Fringe before, I’m hoping to write a guide at some point about what to expect. If you have been before, the change this year is that the fringe now runs for four weeks, with the final week, it appears, taking advantage of half term with a heavily family-oriented programme.

In case you don’t know the rules, these recommendations are acts that I’ve seen before and can recommend. It is by no means an exhaustive list of the best of the Fringe. The majority of theatre listings are plays I’ve never heard of by writers I’ve never heard of performed by groups I’ve never heard of. At least some of those plays will be outstanding – after all, everything I’m recommending was unknown to me once. (And some of the plays I’ve never heard of will be bloody awful, but that’s part of the fun.) But as a cross-section of things to see, here we go.

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The thrill of The Thrill of Love

The New Vic have a good record of their revivals of classic plays – but their new play, The Thrill of Love is even better.

There’s a lot of kudos for being the first something. If you’re a woman, you can be the first woman in space or the first female Prime Minister. If you can’t achieve either of those, you can also be famous for being the last something. And that’s what Ruth Ellis achieved, the only snag being the record she bagged. Being the last woman to be hanged carries the annoying side-effect of death. On the plus side, her story was so fascinating she was immortalised in history. Peter Anthony Allen, the last man to be hanged, must be feeling very short changed. Anyway, since her death there have been many depictions of her life on stage and screen, and the latest contribution comes from Amanda Whittington (best known for Be My Baby), with a play called The Thrill of Love.

This has been premièred by the New Vic Theatre, first at their own theatre in Stoke-on-Trent and now touring to the Stephen Joseph Theatre, as they often do. If you’re wondering why these two theatres tour their productions to each other so much, it’s down to their shared history. In the early days, before Scarborough’s famous producing theatre was named after its founder, Stephen Joseph went to Stoke to set up a second theatre in the round, taking with him a little-known playwright called Alan Ayckbourn. Eventually both men returned to Scarborough, but the two theatres have generally maintained good relations. But whilst the Stephen Joseph Theatre is best know for the works of the not-so-little-known-any-more playwright, the New Vic has gone its own way, mostly showing classic plays such as Cider with Rosie, Laurel and Hardy, And A Nightingale Sang and Bus Stop in a style that is unmistakably theirs. I hadn’t realised that, for once, they were touring with a completely new play.

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John Beecher 1986-2012

Small break from the theatre news and review to share this link to the Guardian’s obituary of John Beecher. This will probably only be familiar to the few readers of this blog who’ve been to the Buxton Fringe, but John Beecher was a highly-thought of volunteer at Pauper’s Pit. He died of cancer aged only 25, and has now been remembered in an obituary in The Guardian in a series known as “Other Lives”, commemorating ordinary people instead of the usual well-known public figures.

John Beecher obituary – Guardian

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