It’s been a pretty good Fringe for me this year. Normally, I return with an even mix of good plays and mediocre/awful plays under my belt. This year, however, I’ve seen 12 plays with very few weak links. However, this roundup is for a pick of the fringe and not an all-round “didn’t they all do well”, so I’m being stricter than I would normally be when looking for highlights. So congratulations to those who made it, commiserations to those who’ve missed out.
Unless you have been locked in a wardrobe since you were nine, you will probably know that there’s this thing called the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland in each year. Most people are also aware it has a lot of theatre and comedy in it. Fewer people know that, unlike most arts festivals, the Edinburgh Fringe is open to anyone who wishes to take part. (In fact, one of my biggest bugbears is how many people overlook this point, but I will come back to that another day.)
What very few people realise, however, is that Edinburgh is not the only Fringe. It is the biggest in the world, and the second biggest, Adelaide, probably isn’t the most practical destination for British theatregoers, but the third largest is just round the corner in Brighton. Well, when I say third largest, it’s still tiny compared to Edinburgh, but it’s still the ideal festival for London day-trippers, seaside fans, people who want a fringe at a more relaxed pace, and, of course, people like me who find one fringe a year just not enough. There’s also a lot of mini-fringes dotted round England (mostly southern England – sadly nothing north of the M62), including a popular Fringe at Buxton.
Fiona Evans never goes for easy plays, but with the help of Chris Monks, Geordie Sinatra comes off nicely.
Ladies and Gentlemen, live on stage, the one, the only, Frank Sinatra – sort of. “Frank”, is, in fact, not the Frank Sinatra but instead Geordie (Anthony Cable), once a Sinatra tribute act in Whitley Bay, but now – in the advanced stages of Dementia with Lewy Bodies – hallucinating into believing he’s the real thing. Unfortunately, as well as singing to imaginary crowds in Vegas and reliving Frank’s turbulent romance to Ava Gardner, this also includes Frank’s habits of going round without his trousers and assaulting photographers. He often confuses the people around him with the people close to Sinatra. And to complicate matters further, Geordie’s daughter Nancy (Heather Saunders) is obsessed with rescuing her career as a journalist, his partner Joan (Jill Myers) is in fact secretly his estranged wife Vera who walked out when Nancy was three, and Frank’s old friend Sonny (Kraig Thornber) believes he is the true father of Nancy. What can possibly go wrong?
Before I start reviewing any new plays I’ve seen, here’s a look back on last year. I saw in total 83 plays over various big theatres, little theatres and fringe venues across the country, ranging, as always, from big-budget professional to the tiny amateur productions, with productions inevitably ranging from the outstanding to the unimaginably awful. But only a few can stick in my memory, so here is my pick of the best that 2011 offered me:
This is an occasional feature I plan to include in between the reviews. This is because reviews are all well and good, but with most plays I go to see having a run of a week or less, by the time I get round to writing about the good ones it’s probably going to be too late to go and see it. So these “watch worth watching” articles is my pick of plays coming up that I haven’t necessarily seen, but I have reasons to believe will be good.
Bear in mind, however, that I accept no responsibility if I recommend a play that turns out to be abysmal – this has happened before. Caveats aside, the spring/summer programmes for most theatres are now out, and this is what’s grabbed my interest.
Coming up first is Geordie Sinatra, showing 18th April – 12th May at Newcastle’s Live Theatre and then the 18th May – 2nd June at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. You may have noticed there have been a number of cross-theatre collaborations like this one lately. One effect of the cuts to the arts is that many producing theatres have taken to sharing productions with like-minded theatres. I’ve mixed reactions to this: on the one hand, it’s impinging on individual theatres’ originality; on the other hand, if a production’s good, it seems a shame to only present it at one theatre. But this is a particularly interesting collaboration.
Well, here it is. Welcome to my blog on theatre. Since it will be some time before any of these pages get picked up by Google, how did you find this page?
Anyway … those of you who know we will be aware that I see a lot of plays every year; at least 60 for the last few years. When I’ve discussed plays with other people, I’ve sometimes been asked if I’m a reviewer, or suggest that I should do reviews. However, there’s always been a problem with this. As I write and direct myself, it puts me in a difficult position to comment on other people’s work. Quite simply, it doesn’t look good to shout down the efforts of people like yourself – it just comes across as saying “See my plays because all the others are crap”.
So this blog has one golden rule for theatre reviews: it only contains review of plays that I think are good, or show promise in some way. This is a similar policy to FringeReview, who only publish reviews for plays rated 3-star or above. This does not mean that I will give every play glowing praise regardless – a bad play won’t get a review at all, and I will give a promising play constructive criticism if it could be better. I will soon provide a full policy for the rules I have set myself, but this is the idea.