April 2022 fringe roundup

Skip to: The Hunger, Opolis

This was supposed to be a longer article, but owing to a series of cancellations and sell-outs I’ve only managed to catch two fringe-scale plays. But it’s a pleasing two, which coincidentally share the same theme of dystopia.

The Hunger

Most dystopias are of a dystopian future. Black bright Theatre, however, entertains an alternate dystopian past. In these alternate 1980s Deborah and Megan are holed up in their farm deep in the Yorkshire Dales. The world has become a dangerous place since the disease took hold, spread through those who ate the flesh of infected pigs. Those who survived must evade the infected, who have been transformed into flesh-crazed monsters who can infect you. They must also, we presume, evade the vegans, who will never let you hear the last of this.

The Zombie Apocalypse is a trope that’s frequently dunked on. It’s the trope that’s been so over-used by films that it’s practically considered a genre in its own right. Every time a new zombie flick comes out people take the piss out of it with “OMG, this is the most brilliant idea for a film. You’ve got a world where this people become ZOMBIES, and they can turn other people into MORE ZOMBIES. But wait, here comes the best bit. There are survivors who group together, but the real danger is – wait for it – when they FIGHT AMONGST THEMSELVES!” Even when plays or films don’t play to trope stereotypes, it’s difficult to produce anything that’s original and not predictable. Madeline Farnhill’s primary challenge, therefore, is to somehow create something different in some way. How do you do that? Maybe play on the last corny real-life catchphrase? Learn to live with the virus?

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How did they get to this point?

How Did We Get To This Point? was a gamble to the point of sheer recklessness. But it paid off and Alphabetti’s alternative Christmas show is the best thing they’ve done.

Picture on wall: man holding sign saying "Keep your coins, I want change"How did Alphabetti Theatre get to this point? Their end-of-year production was very much a hastily-arranged Plan C. The original plan fell through when another theatre nabbed the writer they intended to commission. Then the next idea, to do a plan based on talking to Leave voters about the why they voted, but they wouldn’t come forward. (More on that subject another day.) With December looming, by this point one would normally be in damage control mode, forgetting hopes of a ground-breaker and settling for something merely okay. Anyway a plan was made to sort-of revive How Did I Get To This Point?, a play they once did as a studio production at Live Theatre a few years back.

It’s not often I know the background to a play in this much detail. The reason I know this one is that the history of Alphabetti Theatre, up to and including the production of the play, is the story of the play itself, interspersed with stories of homeless people. By this point, loads of red flags ought to have been flying. Self-indulgence and self-referencing is difficult to pull off, and doubly difficult if you’ve decided to do this at the last moment. This could have been a disaster.

And what do you know? Against all odds, How Did We Get To This Point? is the best thing they’ve ever done in this theatre. Continue reading

Carols and Cocktails and caterwauling

Carols_and_CocktailsAlphabetti’s Carols and Cocktails, is ambitious – maybe too ambitious – but a very bold choice for a December productions.

If there’s one thing 2015 will be remembered for in Newcastle theatre, it will surely be the setup of Alphabetti Theatre. This might sound like hyperbole, but honestly, they’ve become the venue of choice for all the small-scale groups in Newcastle, and they earned the wholehearted report of the city’s other theatres. Such an advancement from two years ago when they were an obscure even in an upstairs room of The Dog and Parrot. But do they put on good plays? Yes, if The Frights is anything to go by.

And so Alphabetti close their inaugural year in their own theatre with Carols and Cocktails. This is not, as the title suggests, an end-of-year social where everyone turns up for some, um, carols and cocktails, but a play. In this play, office IT workers Phil and John put on a show for the Christmas party, not because they’re particularly into this sort of thing, but because they want to impress the ladies (because playing in a band is cool yeah). Or rather, they both want to impress one particular lady, Carol. Okay, I think I’ve spotted the flaw in this plan. One other tip: if you must resort to reading a woman’s e-mails in the server room in order to find out her personal interests, keep that fact to yourself. Continue reading

The Frights: the debut Alphabetti needed

Promtional image: remains of a bed in a ruined roomWith so much resting a good inaugural performance at Alphabetti theatre, the stakes could not be higher for The Frights. And does the job, with a play that’s intelligent, complex and – dare I say it? – thought-provoking.

With a successful crowdfunder and launch out of the way for Alphabetti Theatre, attention now turns to their first in-house production at their new theatre, The Frights. It’s directed by Ali Pritchard, who somehow managed to find the time to do this on top of actually building the venue, although it looks like he had a lot of help from the very much hands-on writer Louise Taylor. It’s not quite Alphabetti’s début – they did an Edinburgh Fringe show as Teeth in Eggcups and they’ve done a few in-house plays at their old home of the Dog and Parrot – but it was still the début that mattered. Because no matter how well you open a venue, no matter how nice the quirks such as the chairs being on sale from a local furniture store, people are going to want something to show for it. Fail to impress with the first play, and the future after first season would look shaky.

So, it must have been quite a fraught business for Alphabetti, and quite a fraught business for me too. After all of the energy I spent supporting the setup of this venue, it would have put me in a very awkward position had the first show failed to impress. But I needn’t have worried. It’s a good inaugural play, and bodes well if this is how they mean to go on. Continue reading