Fringe Focus: Belly flops on the fringe

Written for The Stage

Last week, I witnessed a terrible piece of theatre that was truly painful to watch. Opaque, pretentious, poorly directed and shakily performed; it was interminable. But as I escaped I couldn’t help but feel that, even apart from the other captives in the audience, I had not been alone in my discomfort – perhaps those most suffering were the actors themselves.

Is a belly flop more painful for the swimmer or the viewer who sees it happen? For anyone who’s ever performed such a watery failure the answer is surely that the doer feels the discomfort most acutely. For all the viewer’s propensity to cover their eyes and emit sympathetic groans, enacting a disaster is more painful than watching one happen. Read more.


Review: A Sherbert Cherry Rose

Written for The Stage

At one point in Xenia Orphanides’ pretentious new offering her protagonist, an artistically constipated painter, cries out “This is turning out to be a nightmare!” as he battles with his new work. Sitting in the audience I can’t help but feel sympathy with him.

A Sherbert Cherry Rose is interminable. This is a poorly written and verbose attempt to interrogate the process of artistic creation and the isolated society Orphanides feels artists have to work in. Tom – who we know is an artist because of the paint splattered on his bag and shirt – is desperately searching for inspiration, while three people with ‘real’ stories are just round the corner from him involved in a desperate search for meaning themselves. “If we could all only engage with each other more, art could successfully heal the world,” Orphanides appears to be crying. But not if it’s art like this.

Mostly consisting of self-indulgent monologues, this piece drowns in attempted lyricism, utterly eschewing dramatic narrative. As such, although circumstances change within the course of the play, there is no cohesion to any of these events and each character remains psychologically and emotionally static. Stuck in this quagmire the languishing cast do their best but only the fiercely determined Sophia West manages to connect with the audience.

Barons Court Theatre, runs until February 3

London International Mime Festival Review: The Cardinals

Written for The Stage

Three Cardinals come together in prayer as their stage manager intones “All Cardinals to the stage please, this is the five-minute call”. They are about to embark on a retelling of the Christian faith on a stage intended for puppets not people. It is a silly but touching moment with this religious act mirroring secular pre-theatrical rituals, just as their faith stands in direct counterpoint to the theatrical rule of make-believe.

Performed with an endearing focus and seriousness, Stan’s Cafe’s The Cardinals is certainly as zealous as any evangelical endeavour. Infused with imagery that nods to religious painting and Monty Python, it is irreverent but knowledgeable and visually delicious. A ‘play-within-a-play’, The Cardinals is full of backstage in-jokes that keep theatre followers giggling while the effort involved in such a prop-heavy show is a sweet reminder of how much work belief takes.

But for all its mischievousness – or perhaps because of it – it goes on for too long and cannot fully explain its point. Its cardinal sin is that it doesn’t go anywhere – simply repeating its message of satirical comedy instead of building on the potentially fascinating interplay between theatrical and spiritual endeavour that marks their initial moment of prayer.

Playing AE Harris Building Birming, January 29-February 2

How to fundraise

Written for Ideastap

How to fundraise

Finding sources of income has never been more important – or daunting. Honour Bayes talks to top arts fundraisers to find out how best to ‘make the ask’…

“Turn critical needs into attractive propositions”

This advice – from Head of Development at Bristol Old Vic Alan Wright – is a good place to start when tackling fundraising: in order to get anywhere, you need to communicate clearly why any donation is an attractive option. Director of Corporate Affairs at the British Museum Sukie Hemming agrees: “What you’re asking someone to do, i.e. part with their money, is actually really irrational.” To encourage people to invest in you, she adds, “you need to ensure it is a sure and viable project” that warrants such investment. Read more

The Stage: Fringe Focus – Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

Fringe picks for 2013

Looking forward into 2013 I thought I would focus on some of the ‘fringier’ fringe venues I think deserve a New Year’s mention.

Where better to start than at The Union Theatrewhich won The Stage’s Fringe Theatre of the year Award. While well known for their superb musical record I hope 2013 will be the year when their line in disputed Shakespearean works – this year kicking off with Fair Em – gets as much notice as their vault-storming hits. To read more

The Stage: Fringe Focus

As 2013 begins afresh here are a collection of my 2012 Fringe Focus blogs to get you warmed up for those to come.

Catch a rising star


Recently, I was asked what I thought of The Off West End Awards (or the ‘Offies’ as they are affectionately known). The person in question had issues with their validity, suggesting that to score one thing against another was unavoidably reductive. But while I could see their point – having a love/hate relationship to awards myself – for Off-West End venues they can be essential. To read more.

Is this theatre’s ‘new’ new writing?

The Bush Theatre announced its new writing policy last week. To do so during the first season without a new play in the theatre’s 41 year history was brave. Sure enough voices of dissent were soon heard, none more frankly than original Artistic Director Mike Bradwell, who wrote – on a social networking site that shall not be named


– well you can imagine the rest. His reaction has elicited more than 80 responses with people anxious not only about the restricted application time but also the workshop and seed funding processes that will follow. To read more

The dramatic appliance of science.

As Nick Payne’s dazzling Constellations or Katie Mitchell’s disquieting Ten Billion shows there are a million and one ways to dramatise science. The Barbican’s exciting collaboration with the Wellcome Trust  and FUEL’s partnership with the UCL Ear Institute continue to explore how art can open up the complicated DNA of physics, biology and chemistry for an audience to experience and enjoy. To read more

We can learn from panto – oh, yes we can!

The cast of Snow White at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen parody this year's favourite cultural reference Gangnam Style. Photo: Donald Stewart

For some people pantomime is only bearable because it encourages families who never go to the theatre into it, and for others it’s not even bearable then. But I’ve always been rather fond of the “He’s behind you!” hoopla.

I enjoy the silly antics and clever pop culture references (if there’s a pantomime on the planet this year without a Gangnam Style pastiche I’ll run around the stage with bloomers on my head). Most of all I get a thrill about being part of an audience so involved in their own entertainment, proactively working with the performers to ensure a good night out. To read more