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Edinburgh Festivals Diary – Day 4 

Edinburgh Festivals Diary - Day 4

Sunday 20 August 

Edinburgh Festivals Diary - Day 4

Edinburgh Festivals Diary – Day 4

I was happily queuing for ‘All We Ever Wanted Was Everything’ at Summerhall yesterday evening.

‘You’re a disgrace,’ said the boyfriend of a young lady who was in a play I didn’t think was very good.

‘Pardon?’, I asked, puzzled.

‘I watched you at the play the other day and read what you wrote. You call yourself a Theatre Specialist! You’re disgusting’, he replied.

‘Oh! The misogynistic, offensive & borderline homophobic play?,’ I said.

‘It isn’t offensive, you’re a disgrace’, he snapped.

‘Look, I’m more than happy to discuss the play and what I wrote about it after this show?,’ I said.

‘Nah mate. You’re a disgrace,’ he mumbled and stomped off.

The whole encounter was as classy and as subtle as orgy night on Love Island. I’ll try not to lose any sleep.

Very sad. (Translation: not particularly sad because it is, after all, only theatre.)

Sunday was a punishing day. It started at The Pleasance Courtyard: Kafka and Son. The relationship between Franz Kafka and his father is put under the microscope in a solo show that tested my patience. For me, this play falls carelessly into the dreaded theatre deadzone of “lovely but a bit boring”. I just couldn’t emotionally connect with this show. Not awful.

At lunch time I went to the shops and picked up a Matcha Face Mask and a small bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. There is a God!

Worklight Theatre’s new show Monster finds Joe Sellman- Leava once again surfing the rollercoaster of the sixty minute mixed-metaphor as he is simultaneously Patrick Stewart, his girlfriend and Mike Tyson calling the shots in the front, rather than the back, seat. His new show examines masculinity in a searingly honest and autobiographical way. Worth a look.

‘All We Ever Wanted Was Everything’ really floated my boat. Middle Child’s gig-theatre show is a life affirming call to arms at the Edinburgh Fringe and really feels like a shot in the arm. The dissection of consumerism and capital culture. Luke Barnes’ play sensationally looks back and ahead at Broken Britain. Outstanding stuff!

Later that evening I head up to The Hub for cabaret star Meow Meow’s take on ‘The Little Mermaid’ for the International. This is a wickedly funny and entertaining 70 minute show that was the perfect way to round off the week. Meow Meow makes performance art with a sensibility that makes you want to head out in search of a dancefloor. (See if any of your friends are around before you go out, though, it’ll be rubbish by yourself.)

‘Tough crowd tonight?’, I said

Seiriol Davies and Carl Woodward

Seiriol Davies and Carl Woodward

‘Bloody Sunday audiences… Pretty bleak crowd tonight‘, said Meow Meow herself, fresh off the stage grazing on wasabi and clutching a half-pint of beer in the after show bar.

‘Well, quite. I had fun though! I thought you did a great job, for what it’s worth’, I smiled. Seriously, What a woman.

The night finished at 5am on the steps by the Edinburgh castle with Seiriol Davies.

Far too much white wine was consumed, I can’t remember much else to be honest.

Note: Fringe Fatigue is setting in – thank God there is a bath in my hotel room. Let’s see what joys tomorrow will bring.





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Edinburgh Festivals Diary – Day 3

Edinburgh Festival Diary -Day 3

Saturday 19 August

Edinburgh Festival Diary -Day 3

Edinburgh Festival Diary -Day 3

My Saturday morning began at the Traverse Theatre for Zinnie Harris’ beautifully devastating ‘Meet Me At Dawn’. Harris’ gorgeous play for the Edinburgh International Festival is a take on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and sees two women washed up on a beach after an accident at sea. At first I thought I was in for a Waiting For Godot sequel – with all the flourishes you’d expect from a Beckett piece. However, the play evolved majestically, is extremely beautiful and by all accounts ‘worth a watch’.

I made my way up to the EIF Hub with some cookies for the press manager and her team.

‘How are you all?’, I asked mischievously.

‘We’re doing fine… Over half way now,’ she responded.

‘Shall we eat the cookies?’ I asked.

We did.

I did some writing over lunch and ended up sitting next to a classical music critic.

‘Have you seen The Divide?’ I asked.

‘Oh yes,’ he replied. ‘I don’t want to talk about it!’

So there we are.



I made my way to Summerhall with anticipation to Selina Thompson’s ‘Salt’. A play that tackles Europe’s involvement in the slave trade with an iron fist. (This play is fucking great). Genuinely political, satirical, provocative, innovative and completely brilliant. A decadent, astute theatrical triumph and I loved it. This one woman show deserves all the praise.

As Saturday afternoon wore on and the streets filled with boozing, I found myself at The Space on Niddry St for ‘Penthouse. Sober.

A play that started off better than I could have expected and ended up being far worse than I could ever have feared. The blurb says it offers ‘an insight into the world of bankers and the pressure they face that can lead them to take their own lives’. It is clumsy in the handling of the subject matter, though, and in dealing in outdated stereotypes will leave you in a state of delirium. Depressing stuff, but what can you do.

By the end of this 38 minute fiasco (advertised: 55 mins) I wanted to jump off the roof. It’s not very good, i’m afraid.

(Yes I know it’s not polite to dwell on awfulness but know your enemy and all that).

My evening ended at the Churchill Theatre for ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’. Barry McGovern’s performance at Church Hill Theatre confirms him as the leading interpreter of Beckett. This haunting play examines age and memory and lasts less than an hour; ideal.

Overall — a good(ish) day.

Plenty of food for thought, readers.

Note: According to my pedometer I did 18, 535 steps (12 kilometres)



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 Edinburgh Festivals Diary – Day 2 

Friday 18 August


I started the day at the Pleasance for The Scotsman’s Fringe First awards – a ceremony recognising outstanding new writing premiered at the Fringe.

The winners are announced each Friday morning. The last time I was in this particular venue, somebody stripped to a thong and sang ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. Anyway, there was plenty of coffee and thankfully the crowd (journo/media types) remained clothed for the duration.

The second group of 2017 winners are as follow:


How To Act 


A Super Happy Story (About Being Super Sad)

The Shape of Pain



(Congratulations to all the winners!)

Rendered Retina / HTWAH

My first show of the day was ‘Form’ by Rendered Retina Theatre Company at 10 Dome. Rendered Retina is made up of the extremely talented Tom Mangan, Alex Mangan & Jordan Choi. As well as the show being wonderful on its own merits, ‘Form’ was good and the crowd reacted quite positively to it, ie they were engaged and laughed in the right places.

Having known the lads for several years, it was exactly how I’d expect it to be: a polished performance, attention to detail, all ‘on point’. Rendered Retina were recipients of the LET Award 2017 and selected to receive a performance slot at the Pleasance, a cash injection of £1000 plus industry mentoring from Les Enfants Terribles. Well done, boys!

I spent the afternoon at my rather nice hotel, mostly hydrating and arranged to meet a friend.

‘Why are you watching that?’, said Lyn Gardner.

‘Aaaaghh!’ I cried, wrestling the tickets out of my pocket. She laughed.

We compared schedules and had a cup of tea.

Later I got chatting to a friendly lady called Annette. We talked about shows and I shared my schedule concerns.

‘Be ruthless’, she said.

‘How so?’, I asked.

‘Your time is limited here — if you have a bad feeling or word of mouth about a show – don’t go. Time is too precious.’

‘Right you are’, I said.

Perhaps this is news to you, but How To Win Against History’ is back at the Fringe. Unfortunately for them and their PR, all their attempts at creating a buzz –  the giant colourful posters, Oberon Books publishing its first musical score, social media blitzing etc – have been generally ignored, which is a shame.

I am of course employing sarcasm for ironic effect because this show is all everyone’s talking about. This musical about a cross-dressing Marquess is certainly at home at Assembly George Square Gardens.

How To Win Against History is astouding and Seiriol Davies is a genius.

Note: I went to bed early with a Moroccan Mint Green Tea with Rose. Bleak.

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Edinburgh Festivals Diary: Day 1 

Day 1 – Thursday 17 July 

Royal Mile

Royal Mile

Edinburgh is right in the middle of celebrating the 70th anniversary of it’s world-famous festivals, the Scottish capital has rightfully become known as the world’s best festival city.

What better time to turn up and get involved?

With my luggage dropped off and a ham sandwich partially consumed I decided to start my Edinburgh odyssey. As is tradition, I wandered through the Royal Mile. The anticipation was high: would I witness three actors kissing while dressed as nuns? Would a performance artist reveal their pregnancy live on the cobbles? Would a comedian frighten a defenceless civilian? Anything is possible.

Whatever was about to happen I had a feeling that there would be surprises (ideally involving Quentin Letts and a glitter canon, but this is just a pipe dream of course).



My first show was at Bedlam Theatre: a gorgeous, 90 seat theatre housed in a former Neogothic church at the foot of George IV Bridge for Seanmhair‘. Director Kate Wasserberg’s production has a sinister aesthetic beauty while the remarkably gifted performers avoid the easy path of desolation. It was a total joy to witness this stunning coming of age story set in 1950s Edinburgh. In every respect, though, Seanmhair is a puzzling production but one that warrants a visit. Cardiff’s The Other Room is not messing around with this one, offering direction from Kate Wasseberg, Hywel John doing the writing bit, neon light strips and opaqueness throughout and, as a result, a renewed sense that — hey, do you know what — Fringe theatre might be alright after all.


Butt Kapinski

Butt Kapinski

Later, a volunteer at the Pleasance Dome Press Office tells me: “Go and see Butt Kapinski; it’s amazing… I went twice.” So I did just that. Kapinski is a cod-detective, a ‘comedy character’ that doesn’t make any sense, but is often engaging. The meta-theatre interactive piece packs a pretty entertaining punch and Deanna Fleysher’s alter-ego relies on the audience *a lot* for LOLs with mixed results. (I’m sure the Pleasance volunteer is a really nice guy and that’s all I have to say about this episode.)


With an abundance of choice in a connected theatre ecology, you’re likely to be influenced by blogs, friends or word of mouth. It’s probably worth pointing out that both Fringe and International Festival have plenty to offer. You should never believe that theatre-going has any rules and if there are any rules, you should break them all.

Note: I ended the evening with a large glass of Pinot Grigio.

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Playwright Andrew Maddock, Interview: “I do get pissed off with ticket prices.”

Forget everything you thought you knew about Andrew Maddock (unless you thought his plays were quite good): his new play Olympiladsis an absolute belter. Andrew Maddock is one of The Independent‘s Playwrights to Dominate 2017. What does that even mean, I ask. “I knew exactly what that was – it was nice for my mum to look at,” he smiles. “For people outside the theatre bubble, I guess it legitimises me.”

We talk about ‘mainstream’ coverage for work and he talks about critics with a candour that is rare in this industry. “I love Fleabag –  I saw it twice – I don’t understand why the Guardian had to review it 6 times,” he says. “Publications don’t have the resources to send people to Pub theatres but they can send another critic to the same show.”

Maddock continues, “I would like them to maybe attend one of my plays in the future, and it’s not really very true because as you said, they are sent on assignment and I’m sure the reason for re-attending a show like that is for clicks. I really respect the work of a critic and I’m sure it’s not easy.”

Director Niall Phillips and Maddock formed the production company Lonesome Schoolboy Productions. Their latest show that has just opened at Theatre N16 explores a multifaceted relationship between two brothers and their estranged sister, living their lives under the shadow of austerity and the hope for a lasting London legacy during the 2012 Olympic Games. The show was selected to be part of Scott Ellis’ first season as Artistic Director of Theatre N16. Put it alongside sell-out show ‘He(art)’ earlier this year and what we’re all witnessing here, people, is Maddock transitioning into a proper actual excellent writer.


Rhys-Yates-Simeon-Nebiu-Samuel-Darren- Olympilads

Beyond Stratford’s investment units and ‘innovation centres’, affordable housing is in little supply on the former London 2012 site. The legacy team have their work cut out to re-claim the original vision. It was important for Maddock to take this subject matter head on. “It’s a family drama set during 2012 Olympics… 5 years on. It is about the legacy that was promised”, he says. “The properties that were built are still unobtainable. I was born and raised in Wembley and I’ll probably have to move out of the area if I ever want to buy a house. Olympilads is about a family without that security.”

Fairer ticket prices and affordability is high on his agenda. He says: “I do get pissed off with ticket prices. I know that theatre isn’t cheap to make. But essentially where it gets me is when it’s a cash cow and they are going to sell out the run. Then they could absolutely bring prices down. In football, they have a grassroots model where the bigger Football clubs send the money back down and perhaps theatre could follow that model.”

Is he worried about opening a Olympilads when all the critical folk are at Edinburgh Fringe? “We’re in a tough space with the show opening in August because everything and everyone is up in Edinburgh,” he pauses, “However, we’re also in a great place because there is nothing else on during that time that is as good as our show.”

Olympilads is on at Theatre N16 8th – 26th August (Tues – Sat, No Matinee)

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Five key shows opening in London in the next four months 

Here are five important shows opening in London between now and the middle of November. (Please note that I am open to doing regional shows and Fringe shows but thought it would be fun to start with the ‘big ones’ – just humour me for the time being)

Jesus Christ Superstar (11 August)

Tyrone Huntley and Declan Bennett both have a natural luminescence so intense that it would shine bright in a Vantablack theatre dungeon. This revival is perfectly at home at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical could raise the Titanic from the sea bed. Enjoy!

Five Guys Named Moe (29 August)

How do you think this will do?

It doesn’t exactly feel as if the world of theatre is ‘battening down the hatches’ in anticipation of an unstoppable Clarke Peters musical tsunami. At the same time: you can’t go wrong with a bit of Clarke Peters. (Unless you happen to be the person who designed the poster, who ‘went wrong’ on an epic scale.) Anyway, the cast are extremely talented and it’s on at this new pop-up theatre in Marble Arch. So, ‘Let the Good Times Roll’, etc.

Footloose (12 September)

At this point we are so far into ‘will this do’ territory that you might as well watch the 1987 film.  It’s always difficult to say that a movie musical is entirely pointless, especially when there are audiences enduring it on tour around the country. However, this show, literally a frame-by-frame recreation of the movie, does make you wonder

The Toxic Avenger – (28 September) 

This show is a JOY. Joe DiPietro and David Bryan’s cult rock musical lands at the Arts Theatre following a storming month-long run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Watch and learn, lesser theatre entities. This is how you do it.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – (6 November)

This show is a really exciting thing, isn’t it? The new musical by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae premiered at Sheffield Crucible last year and transfers to the Apollo Theatre. John McCrea is brilliant, and ‘Everybody’s Talking’ is a super-smart musical. If you enjoy it, buy the concept album.  

N.B. There are two plays (‘Ink’ and ‘Labour of Love’) by up-and-coming scribe James Graham opening this Autumn in St Martin’s Lane, apparently. 

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Around the World in 80 Days, Matthew Ganley Interview: “Dolphins are incredible creatures.”

You’ve probably heard that Around the World in 80 Days is currently on at Cadogan Hall, London, so it seemed like a good opportunity to talk to Matthew Ganley who is currently starring in it.

The show is on at Cadogan Hall for five weeks and continuing as part of a wider UK tour. The production features an ensemble of 8 who play over 125 characters in an imaginative and physically inventive high-spirited escapade. Follow the mysterious and fabulously wealthy Phileas Fogg as he wagers his life’s fortune that he can circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days. Brilliant.

Here is what we discussed.

Hi ya! How is Around the World in 80 Days looking?

It’s looking great thanks. A riotous spectacle!

Great! How would you best describe Theresa Heskins’ approach to directing?
Detailed, rigourous and playful. Her rehearsals are brilliantly full on. So much care and attention is taken and her shows have real integrity as a result. As an actor I am trusted and scrutinised in equal measure. You bring all of yourself into the process and after a week your brain and body have had a full workout!

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
The Baiji Dolphin. A Chinese river dolphin recently declared extinct due to human impact. We could learn to do things differently to give them another shot. Dolphins are incredible creatures.

There are a lot of characters in Around the World in 80 Days aren’t there. How do you tackle playing several different characters?
Having a few different accents is useful. Also discovering the differences physically between the parts. Working with opposites can help. If one character is a smug plonker, I might explore making the next one kind and likeable. Above all, discovering the truth for each character and realising their role within the story is the most useful approach.

Who would play you in the film of your life and why?
Jason Statham. We look vaguely similar and he’d make my life look that bit cooler.

How is this role different to your previous roles in The Lady Killers or Once?
In Once and The Lady Killers I had just the one character. In 80 days I have 28 (including an elphant’s arse!) It provides a different challenge. Being able to switch in an instant from an English reform club member to a street seller in Bombay without leaving the stage is a challenge but a very fun one! There’s not a moment’s rest.

How challenging is it staging this show?
It’s such a fast paced and technically busy show. Portraying each country and culture in a such short space of time means the acting, movement, music, quick costume changes, lighting, fight sound effects etc. must all work seemlessly together. The whole team both on and offstage can’t afford to drop the ball. There’s never a dull moment!

Around the World in 80 Days is quite unique in that it is old fashioned but also post-modern isn’t it.
That’s interesting. I’ve never thought of it in those terms. It’s great that an audience might elicit those observations and I’d say our amazing design team definitely contribute to placing us in a very specific period. From my perspective the show is so well written that the stuff I’m responsible for, i.e. the people, relationships and the story to me are timeless.


What do you think audiences will enjoy most about this production?
The comedy, the suspense, the brilliant fight sequences, the elephant, the epic journey and the romance.

What is top of your bucket list?
At the moment it’s a sky dive.

Cadogan Hall seems like an unusual home for this show. Is it?
Transferring from traditional theatres to a concert hall has had its challenges. It has also gifted us with great acoustics, a wonderful auditorium and the new addition of projecting images of each place on to the backdrop of the stage. We’ve had some brilliantly lively crowds so far and the show is settling in very nicely here.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?
Come and see it. You’re guaranteed an unforgettable night out.

At Cadogan Hall until 2 September, then on tour. Box Office: 020 7730 4500

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Graeae, Jenny Sealey MBE Interview: “It is a very, very brutal environment out there at the moment…We need the wider audience to be on our side & fight our battle with us, not for us but with us.”

Jenny Sealey
Jenny Sealey

Jenny Sealey

Graeae theatre company’s Artistic Director, Jenny Sealey MBE is distressed. “My Access to Work benefit is being capped,” she says. “So, my hours will be cut in half. They cut capping it at £40,000… I’m trying to work out how I am going to be Chief executive and Artistic Director on half the amount of access. This all remains to be seen because I am in complete denial about it because it is too upsetting.”

Tory cuts, reforms and changes to disability benefits and a growing crisis in social care and housing are the story of people living and working with disabilities in modern Britain. Her mood is serious, too, when she talks about the challenges being a cultural leader with a disability in 2017; she lost her hearing at the age of seven and relies on sign-language interpreters in much of her professional life. She speaks from complex experience and the threat long held over the company and so many others has now become a reality. “Many of us are going through the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment to find out if they can get their care packages recognised so that they can actually come to work,” she explains. “So, it is a very, very brutal environment out there at the moment but again, that’s why we are doing Reasons to be Cheerful because it is one way of just reminding the wider mainstream world that we exist and we are good at what we do and we need the wider audience to be on our side to campaign and fight our battle with us, not for us but with us.”

Jenny has been Artistic Director at Graeae, since 2007 in that time the industry has made huge strides to achieve greater diversity in terms of disability, race, gender and socio-economic background. But it still has some way to go. “A lot of the challenges are that there are still some awful attitudes out there,” says Sealey. “You can have the best ramp, an induction loop, sign language interpreters, note takers – everything but if the attitude of the theatre, casting director or the producer, the attitude of the BBC or Channel 4 or whoever, if the attitude is not in and around equality, acceptance and engagement then that is what stops us.”

Graeaes’ production of punk musical Reasons to be Cheerful is hitting the road again this Autumn. “We are bringing Reasons back because, my god, do we need a Reason to be Cheerful with how the world is at the moment,” Sealey laughs. “It is just one of the best shows to have in our rehearsal rooms because the music really lifts the spirits of everybody. It is such a gorgeous simple story of a young man who wants to take his dad to a gig, for the last time before his dad dies. It is a rite of passage story; it is about love, it is about being a blockhead, it is about political. Another reason we are bringing it back is because the gang love doing it – we all need to do it one more time before we are too old and don’t have the energy to do it because it is massively high impact! In my heart of hearts, I know this won’t be the last time but for now, we are calling it the last ever tour.”

Ian Dury contracted polio when he was seven years old and was left disabled. He wrote “Spasticus Autisticus” in 1981 as a protest against the International Year of the Disabled, something he saw as patronising. The lyrics were “So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin/ And thank the Creator you’re not in the state I’m in/ So long have I been languished on the shelf/ I must give all proceedings to myself.” Dury was a patron of Graeae and Sealey has the full support of Jemima Dury, Baxter and all the Blockheads. She has nothing but praise for him. “Oh my God what a man! For so many disabled people he absolutely changed their perceptions of who they could be, as young teenagers,” says Sealey. “The first time we ever did Reasons to be Cheerful in Ipswich, we did Spasticus Autisticus and afterwards some kid came running out and just said to John Kelly, our front man, ‘I’m Autistic! I’m Autistic! I’m Spasticus Autisticus!’ and it was the first time he has owned his impairment and understood it. So, it’s a many, many splendid song,” she recalls. “Spasticus Autisticus”, was performed at the 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony despite being banned by the BBC in 1981 and features in the show. “I love that Spasticus Autisticus was banned by the BBC and I love that it was part of 2012 opening ceremony and I love that it has now become a real national anthem for disabled people,” says Sealey.

Reasons to be Cheerful was first performed in autumn 2010 with co-producers New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Theatre Royal Stratford East. This kind of work is best when it is willing to take risks and embrace the challenges of presenting inclusive and dynamic theatre to audiences. Do co-productions dilute the values of work, I ask.  “I think sometimes, co-productions can get diluted if there is too much compromise but that hasn’t really happened with us so we have been lucky. It is always something to be wary of,” she says. “In a way, it is the only way that small companies, like Graeae, can operate is through co-productions. We are very rarely in a position to do our own piece of work which is why this time round, Reasons is not a co-production, it is just us and that feels quite nice. It has really re-lit the coals of the whole company because we own it. Sometimes, the co-production, especially if it is in a city outside of London, can sometimes feel a bit detached from it. But, this time we are all absolutely on it! It is so nice to be doing it ourselves.”

She talks too about audiences taking a leap of faith on work that is not necessarily mainstream. “Ian Dury isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but this is more than just the songs. Well, it is the song but the story is for everybody who has ever fallen in love, anybody who has ever lost anybody and anybody who has ever tried to go to a gig or the theatre and it has all failed,” she says, as she tries to explain the shows enormous appeal. “So, that actually covers quite a lot of people! I think it’s a good fun show about a family and for most of us, we belong to families. The complexities, the dysfunctional stuff about being part of a family and that’s what it is. I think it is a show for everybody.”

“I think it is just really pushing the point that we are massively excited about this and we really do want a whole young audience to also see it so that they can realise the skill and the wisdom and sheer brilliance of Ian Dury’s lyrics and download as many songs as possible. We want the old fans to come back and support us!”

Reasons to be Cheerful – the Musical 
YouTube: GraeaeTheatreCompany
Graeae’s media language guide can be viewed here

National Tour (click on venue names to book tickets):

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry  8 September –  9 September

Derby Theatre  12 September –  16 September

Nuffield Theatre, Southampton 26 September –  30 September

New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich 3 October –  7 October

West Yorkshire Playhouse  10 October – 14 October

Liverpool Everyman  17 October –  21 October

Theatre Royal Stratford East  24 October – 4 November
Relaxed performance 2:30pm (matinee) 2 November

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Fierce Festival, Birmingham. Aaron Wright Interview: “I think we need more young artistic directors in the arts in the UK.”

Aaron Wright

Basically, right, Fierce Festival has announced the full programme of live art, theatre, dance, music, installations, activism, and parties taking over Birmingham from 16 – 22 October 2017

The festival explores themes as diverse as the rituals of clubbing, mental health, “fandom” and fan art, activism, queer culture and climate change the 2017 programme contains fifty events with five World Premieres, twelve UK premieres with artists hailing from ten countries across four continents.

I had a chat with the Artistic Director of Fierce, Aaron Wright about a whole manner of things.

Here is what we discussed.


Aaron Wright

Aaron Wright

Hello! Can you tell us about an average working day in the life of Aaron?
My day usually starts with a Berroca. Then I POWER WALK to the office with my head phones in listening to Diana Ross. I usually schedule meetings for earlier in the day, and then go and get my head down in the office with admin and emails in the afternoon. It’s a small organisation so I have a hand in everything, from long-term planning meetings and research to day to day office up keep, admin and production stuff. This week we’ve had to source a massive block of ice and a load of live flies for the festival. It’s rarely dull.

What are you secretly most excited about in this season?
I’ve personally selected everything in the programme, so I really do love it all. However I’m most excited for the debuts of the international artists who’ve never performer in the UK before – so Erin Markey’s cabaret show Boner Killer, Michele Rizzo’s incredible club dance piece HIGHER and Quarto’s brilliant Durational Rope piece, amongst others.

Bearing in mind that obviously all arts folk say “well I just do what I do” and so on, do keep an eye on the movements of directors you perceive to be your competitors?
I’ve only recently stepped into a director role, but I am aware that I’ve now got some brilliant director peers across the country. I love what Mike Pony is doing with Submerge Festival in Bristol and Amy Letman with Transform in Leeds. I think we need more young artistic directors in the arts in the UK. Fierce is quite distinct though, and so we don’t really have any direct competitors, not in the UK anyway. I love our “cousin festivals” In Between Time and SPILL, but they’re both very different – we complement each other really well. There are of course curators in Europe who I really respect and follow their programmes for tips on interesting artists, but Fierce also has a finger in really underground scenes of hard-core performance art and club stuff which isn’t being presented so much by publicly funded organisations. I think there is a culture in Europe of certain festivals all working with the same artists – and I don’t want to fall into that trap, but also – that’s how big work gets commissioned! Pooling resource is no bad thing. But I also hate artists being commodified; I don’t sit looking through brochures ‘picking’ which artists I want to ‘book’ for fierce. It’s all done through dialogue and relationships.

How important is access and inclusion when you are producing Fierce festival?
Access is fundamental. If people don’t feel comfortable enough to attend, then really why are we bothering. At Fierce we’re really trying to challenge dominant art hierarchies – asking lots of questions about what can be art, who it can be for and where it can happen. In this respect I think Fierce is pretty hot. The programme contains some challenging work but it’s all presented in quite an approachable way. Language is key. We’ve done a lot of work on that this time, but it could still go much further, which we’ll aim to do for the next one. The brochure is fun, a lot of the work is free, it’s presented in quite an informal style that tends to appeal to young curious audiences.

What is the most ambitious part of this programme?
Everything Fits In The Room is this incredible immersive dance work by Simone Aughterlony and Jen Rosenblit requires a big brick wall to be built in this colossal warehouse space in Digbeth – that’s going to be challenging. There’s also a new commission by artist Preach R. Sun from NYC which will see a procession from one venue to another, which involves an awful lot of planning. Luckily the Fierce team are brilliant at this sort of stuff! Also just the sheer scale of this year’s programme – we’ve consciously scaled things up, it felt like the right thing to do following on from the years of brilliant work Laura and Harun did establishing Fierce internationally and cementing a brilliant brand.

Where do you start organising 50 events, with 6 world premieres, 12 UK premieres and artists from 10 countries, across 3 counties?
As this is my first festival I’ve really been drawing on a lot of the research and relationships I built at my last job as Programmes Manager at the Live Art Development Agency – it’s great to be able to commission and programme artists that I got to know whilst I was working there. I also knew there were specific things I really wanted to do with this festival. I wanted to have a well-supported strand of Performance Art, which is often neglected by institutions, and I wanted to continue this enquiry into club culture, so quite quickly strands started to emerge which I then shaped the festival around. There are also loads of brilliant partners we work with in Birmingham, so speaking to all of them and what they all might be interested in collaborating on is a fundamental first step for each festival too.

Can you tell us a secret? 
The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein is a fake ass bitch with fake hair and sleeps with animals. Actually, hardly a secret. She’s Notorious (World Premiere at Fierce 2017!).

Birmingham has a lot going for it doesn’t it – what are your tips for visitors to the city? 
Food is my favourite thing in Brum – some great independent restaurants. There’s a fab stall in the Bullring markets selling vintage sportswear dead cheap, there’s lots of nice concrete too and canals. Some other rad organisations too – BCMG, Flatpack Film Festival, Supersonic Festival, Grand Union gallery etc. There’s a thriving arts scene. There’s a brilliant new wave of club kids here too, centred around the gay village – people like Yshee Black, Ginny Lemon, China Dethcrash, Lacey Lou and Auntie Jamie – all fierce people making Brum a more vibrant place to be with their nights Second Self and Church of Yshee.

What will success look like for you with Fierce Festival in 2017? 
That we might inspire a few people to quit their dull day jobs and become full time performance artists/X-rated cabaret artists/experimental theatre makers. You know you want to.

Fierce Festival runs between

16 – 22 October 2017 across Birmingham.


Fierce Festival intro from Fierce Festival on Vimeo.

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An American in Paris’ Ashley Day Interview: “I’m known as banana man on this show.”

Ashley Day
Ashley Day

Ashley Day

“I’m known as banana man on this show,” declares Ashley Day who is currently playing Jerry Mulligan in the West End production of An American in Paris. “I have two bananas every night to keep my stamina up.”

We are talking on the phone and the spirit of theatre enthusiasm is strong in Ashley. He trained at Stonelands School of Ballet and Theatre Arts and with the National Youth Music Theatre. His first ‘proper’ job was as a dancer with the Matthew Bourne Company. “I had just turned 17 and I was eager to be working and doing what I’d trained to do,” he recalls. “That experience as my first job, which included a tour of Japan was such an unbelievable time and one that I’ll never forget. Matthew is such an incredible choreographer and director. He came to see An American In Paris last week and said it how much he enjoyed it. It was a long time ago but I remember those times very fondly.”

An American In Paris

An American In Paris

It would be only polite to discuss An American in Paris. Christopher Wheeldons adaptation of the Oscar-winning film, about an American soldier and young French dancer in Paris sees Day as the leading man alongside Royal Ballet dancer Leanne Cope. The show features the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin and includes the songs “‘S Wonderful“, “I’ll Build a Stairway To Paradise” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”. It’s a dreamlike musical that pulls off an impressive double, too: fresh enough to stand its ground in the bustle of the risk-taking lot but also conventional enough to catch the imagination of the mainstream-loving millions, with the crucial distinction of not being utter rubbish. It is, in fact, the opposite of rubbish.

I ask Ashley to describe his state of mind before a show. “I’m normally buzzing. I get ready in my dressing room but when I get downstairs it’s a big company with the most incredible number of performers, dressers, technical crew and staff. It’s amazing,” he says. “There are lots of people that I really love here, the excitement backstage is electric. We are a huge family.”

 What is it about this kind of musical that is so appealing audiences to, I ask. “The opportunity to hear these sweeping Gerswhin songs in stunning new arrangements really is very special,” he says. “These songs are absolute classics and everyone loves them; this music sweeps people right out of their seats. The spectacle and artistry is done so brilliantly, there isn’t another show like ours in town.”

An American in Paris is an accessible but immensely rewarding watch, and Day is perfectly cast as leading man, which should in itself tell you that he is capable of really giving it 110%, making the role his own, posing a triple threat, stepping outside his comfort zone and so on.  But, what does he do on his day off? “Absolutely nothing! I usually just lay on the sofa,” he laughs. “I like to walk my dog. An American in Paris is such a gauntlet of a show and so a day off is all about recovery. I watch a ridiculous amount of Box Sets.”

An American in Paris is at the Dominion theatre, London until January 2018.