This is something of a hinge weekend for me, a week on from a hectic fortnight of Buxton Fringe and a week until a long weekend up at Edinburgh Fringe. So a chance to take stock and sum up how Buxton Fringe went for me. Well, it was busy, 40-something shows, 8 reviews for Fringe Guru and hundreds of tweets (I was doing the Twitter for @BuxtonFringe).
It was a very successful Fringe; the quality was high, the audiences seemed pretty decent, and there was an all-round good vibe about the place. The weather was good, it was cold but fairly dry in the first full week, but got warmer and warmer during the second week, which always helps the feel-good factor, with both Fringe and Buxton Festival-goers out and about. Frankly there’s not much better than a sunny evening in Buxton in July, the well-dressed opera audience gathering on the forecourt of the Opera House where Shakespeare Jukebox are doing their thing, you can grab a pint of Fringe Ale at the Old Clubhouse, sit at the picnic tables outside on the temporarily closed Water Street and just watch the world go by.
The heat in the second week made the box office at Underground Venues feel like a sauna, which is ironic as this time next year it probably will be a sauna. Alas, after many false alarms, this really does appear to be the last ever year in the Pauper’s Pit and Barrel Room underneath the Old Hall Hotel, as they fall victim to the adjacent Crescent development. It’s been a wonderful venue for eleven years, right in the centre of town, and so important for Theatre and Comedy on the Fringe. Tom Crawshaw and Yaz al-Shaater founded Underground Venues back when they were in short trousers, and it’s always been a place that has trusted young people to run the show. That’s given it a youthful and energetic feel, but always very professionally run, and I love the way the voices calling the audience into shows get louder as the Fringe goes on and confidence grows.
I really hope they find a new venue and come back next year – particularly as I’ve only just got round to playing – and winning – my first ever game of “Who the fuck is it?”.
Ok, I really should get round to my pick of the Fringe. I’ll concentrate on Theatre and Spoken Word, as that’s what I see the most of, but I reserve the right to throw in some other stuff too. Unless otherwise credited, links are to my reviews for Fringe Guru. Here goes.
The Very Best
My favourite theatre of the Fringe came unexpectedly in a small room upstairs at the Green Man Gallery on a Monday night. A taut investigation of control featuring a man waiting to do something momentous, I said in my review “This play really has it all: wonderful writing, very funny yet utterly chilling, coupled with first-class acting and design.”
Steve Larkin’s TES, a reworking of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, was one of my favourites from last year’s Buxton Fringe so I was looking forward to catching up with this Spoken Word show. Based on his experiences of being writer in residence in a prison, NONCE goes into some dark places, both personally and professionally, and it does so directly and unflinchingly. But it is not without humour, and if you ever get the chance (Larkin’s off to Canada to tour it) it is essential viewing.
The Really Good Stuff
I really feared for this show, multiple daily performances early in the Fringe, slightly out of town up the hill at the Lee Wood Hotel, I worried that they’d struggle to find an audience. I needn’t have been concerned, a real audience favourite, it was one of the word of mouth hits of the Fringe. Inventively staged, and sensitively written and performed, it reduced many to tears. Read Richard Stamp’s Fringe Guru review.
Skin of the Teeth
The first show in several years from Fat Content is a modern adaption of the Brothers Grimm fairytale, The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn to Shudder. I liked it a lot, “an intelligent and brave production that requires some unpicking and rumination.”
Joyful and funny, you will not regret going to see them, perfect to bring kids to, but perfect without them too. This was a show half way between last year’s and their new show for Edinburgh (some video editing wasn’t quite ready), but unlike other shows preparing for Edinburgh runs you really wouldn’t have known (unrehearsed shambolic “previews” that we’ve paid good money for are a real Buxton bugbear!). Read Dan Osbourne’s Buxton Fringe review.
Ms Samantha Mann’s You Bring the Agony, I’ll Bring the Aunt
I think I’m the only person I know who still hasn’t seen Ms Samantha Mann’s Stories About Love, Death and a Rabbit, but it didn’t stop me hugely enjoying this new show as she branches out into addressing our dilemmas as an agony aunt. Charles Adrian is wonderful, completely inhabiting a superb comic creation. Read Ian Parker Heath’s Buxton Fringe review.
Nonsense and Sensibility
Ah, Buxton Fringe wouldn’t be complete without a Three’s Company production, written by Tom Crawshaw and directed by Yaz al-Shaater. This one was a joy, particularly for an Austen fan like me, lots of word play, satire, and general silliness. Alex Watts’ Buxton Fringe review is of the original run featuring Leila Sykes and Madeline Gould, I saw the bonus extra performance at the end of the Fringe featuring Yaz as Harry, replacing the unavailable Gould’s Harriet.
Worth Keeping an Eye on
A couple of things that I enjoyed though I felt they were flawed in one way or another, but the newness of the shows and the professionalism of the teams behind them makes me think that they are likely to continue to improve and are well worth catching up on.
Billed as stand-up poetry from the beat generation, this is a show that looks at the world from a particular generational perspective, they have a great eye for the absurdities and indignities of aging, a telling image and a witty rhyme.
The fascinating story of Shostakovich’s composition of his seventh symphony during the Second World War siege of Leningrad from the perspective of conductor, Karl Eliasberg. A little unbalanced but “fine acting and musicianship is supported by superb set design and lighting. The full house absolutely adored it.”
Other Stuff I’m not an Expert on but Loved Anyway
The great thing about a Fringe in your home town is being able to get out and about and see lots of different things.
I love going to see dance because it makes me feel I can move more gracefully than before I went in (as long as I don’t risk putting that to the test). The Beautiful Game by Next Door Dance was a wonderful evocation of playing and watching football, so much was instantly recognisable to me as a football fan. Non-football fan Robbie Carnegie reviews for Buxton Fringe.
I got to see most of the exhibitions in the Visual Arts category, but An Untitled Exhibition by Adrienne Brown and Langley Brown was easily my favourite. Their distinctive styles are equally interesting, and they are great company, very patiently taking the time to talk about their work and the ideas inspiring it. Buxton Fringe review by Keith Savage.
I reviewed Women Who Wank last year and while I thought it was good, I had my reservations. I went back not once, but twice, this year, and enjoyed two very different shows. I didn’t have any doubt about Joanne Tremarco’s ability as a performer, but this year convinced me of her fantastic skill as a Fool to take comments and suggestions from the audience and run with them. She has the wonderful knack of making people feel comfortable while talking about issues that are not usually discussed openly. Do go and see.
I was delighted that Sam Slide was awarded the Spirit of the Fringe at the Awards Ceremony. He has been everywhere this Fringe; appearing at Fringe at Five, seeing shows, publicizing and encouraging other performers, even bringing much-appreciated biscuits to the staff on the Fringe Desk. His own show Trombone Tunes, Trombone Talk was a charming mix of chat (some great gags!), jazz trombone, and special guests, and filled upstairs at the Old Clubhouse twice.
That’s all, folks
On a personal level, I really enjoyed this Fringe, lovely to catch up with all the Fringe regulars, and great to meet smart new interesting people. Great conversation, a few drinks and lots of laughs. What more could you want from a Fringe? Thank you all.
PS For another view on the Buxton Fringe check out Chris Neville Smith’s always interesting blog.