What’s worth watching: Buxton Fringe 2022

The muppets set up outside someone's house

Skip to: The Ballad of Mulan, The Formidable Lizzie Boone, The Little Prince, Under Milk Wood, Portents, Jekyll and Hyde: a one-woman show, [BLANK], War of the Worlds, Report: an enquiry into the enquiries, Adventures in Sound and Light, Nychtophilia

If 2021 was the big party for festival fringes getting back on the road, 2022 is the big hangover. Just when Brighton Fringe looked like it was set to get back to full size, its biggest venue imploded with a knock-on effect for the whole fringe. Edinburgh Fringe is making progress back to normal, but is currently facing headaches over working conditions and accommodation expenses. Which means the prize for first fringe back to full size goes to Buxton. With 169 entries going into the programme, and a typical size of 170-180 for most of the last decade, it is generally regarded as back to normal and back to business.

However, when you look a bit closer at the numbers, there are some notable shifts within these figures. The most prominent change – which might not be obvious now but certainly will be noticed in weeks 1 and 2 – is that the Rotunda is only going to be present for the second half of the fringe. Not because the Rotunda is struggling; on the contrary, they’re having an excellent 2022, taking on a second dome, emerging as the big winners of Brighton Fringe, and earning fixtures at other festivals. Unfortunately, this has not entirely worked in Buxton’s favour, because one of those festivals in Wells Theatre Festival, which clashes with the first half of Buxton Fringe. The other change – more subtle but just as important – is that there is hardly any availability of the Arts Centre Studio this year. I don’t know the story here, but it’s most likely the Buxton Festival wants it – and, let’s face it, a 352-seater event from Buxton Festival is always going to win over the 91-seater studio configuration used by Buxton Fringe.

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Odds and sods: February 2022

Right, what happened in February. Oh yes. That.

But apart from That, this also happened.

Stuff that happened in February

So far the first time since 2019, we have preparations underway for all the main fringes. Last year was cause for celebration when, against all odds and so much stacked against them, the two biggest fringes put on great comeback festivals. Now, however, it seems we’re into the hangover. Oh dear, here’s what’s been going on.

Brighton Fringe loses The Warren

E2u1hO0XoAQQfM2How could this possibly go so wrong? Brighton Fringe 2021 was, by all accounts, a roaring success, with custom for both ticket sales and ancillary income (i.e. drinking) vastly outperforming every expectation. But then, last October, signs emerged that perhaps all was not well after all, specifically with The Warren. Complaints started emerging online from performers and staff about not being paid that year, both from the Fringe and the subsequent Warren on the Beach (although some are going further and claiming the problem goes back years). It did seem strange that such difficulties were happening after such a lucrative summer, but apparently it’s perfectly possible for this to happen simply because of inadequate financial management. The absence of anyone from The Warren at registration launch also seemed strange. Then the news died down and the registration for Brighton Fringe approached and I assumed that The Warren must have got a grip on events and settled it quietly.

And then, days before announcement of the full programme, the bombshell was announced by Brighton Fringe: The Warren will not take part in 2022 whilst it sorts out its finances. The announcement came from Brighton fringe rather than the venue, but it sounds like they’ve admitted they screwed up. The problem with the timing is a lot of artists were already programmed to perform there. There is currently a scramble to find alternatives, but off-hand it doesn’t look like there’s enough spare capacity at the other venues to absorb this. At the time of writing, Brighton Fringe doesn’t seem to be budging on its 7th March deadline to get in the printed daily guide. It also dashes the (previously quite high) hopes that Brighton Fringe would be back to full strength for 2022.

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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.

What’s worth watching: Buxton Fringe 2021

Skip to: Jekyll and Hyde, Mr. Fox, The Virtuous Burglar, Mike Raffone, Egriega and Ormond, An Admin Worker at the End of the World, Nathan Cassidy, Coppelia

Well, here’s a snag over a late start to the fringe season. You’ve only finished covering one fringe and the next one’s about the start. But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. It’s July, and that means it’s time for Buxton Fringe.

The news from Buxton isn’t nearly as sensational as the news from Brighton or Edinburgh. (That’s sensational in a good way and a bad way respectively.) Brighton’s comeback was noteworthy because it was not clear whether an event taking place one week after performances were allowed could work that scale, but it did – the sharp contrast to Edinburgh’s misfortunes only heightening it more. But although Buxton Fringe is a lot more low-key, they are following a similar recovery to Brighton. They go into opening night with 109 registrations, about half of pre-pandemic levels (give or take depending on whether you use 2018 or 2019 as the baseline) – that’s similar to Brighton.

Many other changes noticed at Brighton apply to Buxton too. Like Brighton, the paper programme was dropped allowing registrations to come in up to the start of the fringe (with “official” deadlines meaning little in the end). Most of the regular venues are taking part, the most notable exceptions being the Rotunda and the Arts Centre (the latter in operation for the festival but not the fringe this time). The one thing that might have been a spanner in the works was that social distancing for weeks 1 and 2 were put in place unexpectedly, but few acts have been deterred by that. One might have though Buxton would take a hit with no (meaningful) Edinburgh Fringe to be a stepping stone to, but plenty of would-be Edinburgh acts seem quite happy to go without. (That’s not unique to Buxton – Carlisle and Durham Fringes also seem to be managing fine with Edinburgh.)

At this stage, Buxton Fringe has good reasons to be quietly confident. If their fortunes carry on running in line with Brighton’s, they should expect good ticket sales and patronage if Brighton’s precedent is remotely anything to go by. The worst-case scenario I can think of is if the mostly older audience at Buxton are more reluctant to return than their Brighton counterparts, but we should find out in the next few days if this is the case.

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Interview with Stephen Walker: Buxton Fringe, now and beyond

It’s time for another interview. This was something I’d been planning to do for months: ask the new chair of Buxton Fringe about his plans for the future. But in those said months, more event happened than anyone could have thought possible. But that’s okay, because this made an interview all the more interesting.

It’s a much longer interview than usual, but we did have a lot to get through. I bring you an inside account of the most extraordinary year from the festival fringes.


I have with me Stephen Walker, the chair of Buxton Fringe. This is an interview in his capacity as chair, although we will be digressing into his past role as a reviewer.

Good to see you Chris.

If we can cast our minds back to a period in the dim and distant past called November 2019, when Buxton Fringe helds its AGM. What were your original plans back then?

When I took over as chair, I didn’t feel the need for massive changes. I’ve never been a fan of the management style that says “I’m new, I need to change everything” just for the sake of it. The fringe work pretty well, I felt it was more just getting my feet under the table.

We’ve a few new people on the committee, so I thought we’d have a steady year – we’ve had our 40th anniversary, so it would be really nice to make sure everything works and that I know what I’m doing. It’s keeping the show on the road, more like being a custodian of the Fringe. The fringe runs itself to a large extent; because we don’t select or censor, the fringe will be whatever it’s going to be.

The last couple of weeks in June there were just so many entries coming in … and other people were putting stuff together specifically for us, which was fantastic.

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What’s worth viewing: Buxton Fringe 2020

Skip to: Nathan Cassidy, Crossing the Line, The Grandmothers Grimm, The Gambit, Debbie Cannon, Three’s Company Adventure Department, Flowerpot Trail

So, this is one of the strangest fringe previews I will be writing. For the benefit of anyone who’s time-travelled from 2019, we’re having a bit of a lurgi at the moment and all the theatres are closed. The most notable casualty is Edinburgh Fringe, which has been outright cancelled (although there is speculation that some of the venues may opt to put on a reduced festival in August anyway if they can). Brighton Fringe is more fortunate – without the need to recruit masses of temporary staff and hire out every space in a university during vacations, they are planning to postpone, and on my grapevines the mood is getting increasingly optimistic. (Buxton Fringe’s neighbour, Greater Manchester, has also opted for an autumn fringe, although with Manchester having a year-round fringe scene, they could easily form a programme of shows that would be on anyway.)

Buxton’s response, however, was a bit of a surprise. I was expecting them to also postpone, possibly making use of the vacant August slot in the fringe calendar. However, Buxton Fringe chose to dig their heels in and press on with July no matter what, even if it meant doing the whole lot outdoors and online. And with the latest news being that theatres can open but not do theatre in them, and outdoor and online festival is what we have. It’s mostly online, but there are a few physical events, mostly in the visual arts section.

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Will Coronavirus clobber the fringe season?

Update 29/03/20: As you are probably aware, pretty much every prediction I have made so far with a resolution one way or the other turned out to be wrong. I will write an update once we have a better idea what’s happening – in the meantime, here’s the original for you to laugh and point at.

It’s not often I do stand-alone news articles. Normally I wait until the end of the month and put it in odds and sods. However, this is a fast-moving situation and what was idle speculation a few days ago is already a serious possibility. So, it turns out that, unlike Sars, Swine Flue, Bird Flu and pretty much every other lurgi where the panic was way out of proportion, with Coronavirus there actually is something to worry about. There’s been lockdowns of various degrees going on all over Europe, and this morning the Scottish Government has announced what appears to be a ban on events with more than 500 people. It’s not clear exactly how that’s going to work, and one important detail is that the reason for the ban is to free up emergency services to deal with Coronavirus cases, rather than preventing the spread. Even as I write this, the English football leagues have announced a one-month delay of their matches. Continue reading

Roundup: Buxton Fringe 2019

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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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What’s worth watching: Buxton Fringe 2019

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Skip to: Call Mr. Robeson, Old Bones, Jordan, Updownsizing, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, An Audience with Yasmine Day, Moby Dick, Impostors, Tomorrow I’ll the Happy, The Grandmothers Grimm, Brain Rinse, Under Milk Wood

Buxton Fringe is back, and it’s another interesting one. Two years ago there was a very unpredictable fringe when the building housing the key venue was closed for redevelopment – and yet, against all expectations, the fringe grew. This year, however, there was a change which everyone expected would push the numbers up, and it did: 213 events this year, up from 180; and about 750 performances, up from 500.

The change in question is extending the festival by three days from 18 to 21. At it stands, this is a temporary extension for just the fringe’s 40th anniversary year – but the organisers must surely be looking at registrations and ticket sales closely to see if this can be made permanent. Where there is a bit more of a surprise is where the growth has occurred. Doing the same number-crunching as I did in 2017, there are some interesting stats:

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Roundup: Buxton Fringe 2018

buxtonfringe-2-creditjamesbissett_comp

REVIEWS: Skip to: Gated Community, Extremism, Crossing the Line, Old Bones, Antigone na h’Éireann, Maria Callas, The Ladder, Brain Rinse, Earthling, An Audience with Yasmine Day

After the unpredictable fringe of 2017, when two key performance spaces were lost to a building development but a new pop-up venue came along, 2018 looked a lot more like a “no change” fringe. Underground Venues was still in its new home of the new clubhouse, Rotunda returned to the Pavilion Gardens, and the Green Man Gallery and United Reformed Church also carried out quite much as before. And the numbers for the fringe, and each of the venues, also held generally steady.

However, the steady figures are a little deceptive, because there’s been quite a bit of change within these figures. The most notable change was the Rotunda: last year, the programme was dominated by seven shows produced by Grist to the Mill; this year, with application to the Rotunda open much earlier, they had a considerably more diverse programme. Also – and there must a been a few sighs of relief – the Rotunda avoided a repeat of the spate of cancellations that marred an otherwise successful inaugural year. Meanwhile, if my unscientific assessment of their programme is correct, Underground Venues had a wider range of entry-level acts this year, possibly as a result of some fringe-wide rebalancing between the two big venues. They also seemed to have fixed last year’s problem of the fringe club bar never being open, with a drinks for tickets promotion seeming to have worked well. (Also, the Arts Centre has now managed to get the bar opened rather than have people queuing on the street.)

On the whole, however, 2018 has broadly consolidated the changes of 2017, with the unexpected rise in 2017 now looking to be permanent rather than an outlying year. But Buxton may not be settling down just yet – the last I heard, Underground Venues is still seeking another space to compensate for the net loss of one last year, and that could potentially increase the numbers further. Meanwhile, there’s talk of the Green Man Gallery taking on paid staff – at the moment, capacity there is seemingly constrained by volunteer time rather than availability of rooms, but if you’re paying someone who effectively becomes a full-time venue manager in July and and anything is possible. Continue reading