Fringe Benefits in Manchester

Craig Hepworth takes a look at what’s coming up on the fringe scene.


Fringe in Manchester this year has had some ups and downs, we said goodbye to two wonderful fringe venues The Black Lion and The Lass O’Gowrie (though the theatre company Lass Productions is very much alive and well just completing a run of Othello which I sadly missed due to illness, sorry guys) yet The Greater Manchester Fringe had a record breaking year and the 24/7 festival also completed another great year.

Festivals of course are only a small part of the fringe world and away from them James Bakers’ production of The Last 5 Years opened to rave reviews, Organised Chaos enjoyed success with Boy on a Bed, Lem Productions gave us Beyond the Park, New Dawn Fades enjoyed another production at The Dancehouse theatre and my company has had a great year with Rage, Watching Goldfish Suffocate (that opened to great reviews and is now on tour) and we can’t wait to open our new play later this year.

Fringe is still as vibrant as ever here in this great city, today I thought I would share a few thoughts on the scene, take a look at some upcoming shows and basically just celebrate all things Fringe.

A Rep Season

The always wonderful 1956 Theatre Company are about to open a rep season right here in Manchester. From October 9th through Nov 1st you can catch one of the company’s four productions playing at the Salford Arts Theatre. I find this exciting and applaud the company for even attempting a rep season (4 shows in 4 weeks is no easy task) but from what I have heard the plays look set to be wonderful (I will be attending a couple myself). You can buy a ticket to watch all four shows for only £20, that is one hell of an offer or pay for which productions you want to check out. So what exactly is playing in this rep season? Let’s have a look;

Little Women 9 – 11 October

A re-telling of Louisa May Alcott's classic tale of adolescence sees the March sisters struggling to find their place in an England at war. With their beloved father away fighting in the German trenches the girls are encouraged to discover the world by a mother with unwavering strength – starkly different from one another though an unbreakable bond exists between them and keeps the girls close – even when they're far.

Jukebox Baby 16 – 18 October

Jimmie Rose is destined for a life spent packing boxes, heading nowhere fast he spends his days keeping his kid brother Bobby out of trouble. When Bobby's about to lose all hope of a baseball scholarship that could be his ticket out of Brooklyn; Jimmie does him a kindness that will change both of their lives forever. Against the easy backdrop of 1950s New York – Juke Box Baby explores those defining moments of self-discovery that every once young hopeful can relate to.

The Lodger 23 – 25 October

The oddball lodger occupying Mr and Mrs Bunting's spare room is considered suspect when he fits the description of local serial killer, known only as "The Avenger," and has a particular penchant for killing off brunettes. Never fear – Detective Joe Chandler is on the case. A wildly funny, physical comedy adaptation of Hitchcock's classic silent thriller.

Wolf 30 October – 1 November

"And the wolf made a good meal of the boy’s flock – the wise man said 'a liar will not be believed, even when he speaks truth.'" – It's the Summer of '98, City have been relegated, Baddiel and Skinner are top of the charts and, in Salford, the rain never stops. A raw, intimate look at relationships taut with insecurity, families ripped up and torn apart – Wolf unravels that which is at the core of every problem. A lack of truth. A mirror-like reflection of a world-full of tangled webs.

So there you go, plenty for everyone to enjoy, full of some familiar faces from the Fringe Scene this looks set to be a great success for 1956, and I couldn’t be more pleased for them.

Sherlock comes to Manchester

After a successful run in York, the new interactive play Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis is coming to The Great Northern Playhouse this month (7 – 11 Oct). This one is one to check out.

Three years after the Reichenbach Falls the great detective, Sherlock Holmes, is presumed dead. Dr John Watson has married and moved on, consigning his days of adventure and investigation to memories.

A great professor of criminology prepares to educate his audience on the ‘science of deduction’ that Holmes made famous. Will this event be the catalyst to throw Holmes and Watson together again, as one final mystery lays dormant, waiting to be unraveled? Could it be true that their archenemy Moriarty is still at large?

This fast paced and participatory production places the audience at the heart of the action, with games to play and investigations to be solved. A contemporary, interactive original drama inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s much-loved detective stories.

A new Playhouse?

Yes, we have a fantastic new fringe space, for a few months at least. A talented bunch have worked hard to put this new venue together as a pop up venue for fringe and the arts. Located in Deansgate inside the Great Northern building, this fringe space can seat up to 80 people and promises 15 weeks of great theatre and art. This is just what the city needs to make up for the sad loss of other venues making it easier now for the many Fringe teams in Manchester to find a home for their work.

I get the feeling this won’t be the only pop up venue by the team, I’m sure we will be seeing this happen again and I think that’s incredibly exciting for the city. As well as the above mentioned show the venue will also be hosting Little Terrors (4th and 5th Oct) Watching Goldfish Suffocate (18th Oct) and VIP on the 22nd to the 25th Oct, so already the season is filling up nicely.

From stage to screen

We love a good success story, a friend of mine and fringe scene regular Lloyd Eyre Morgan has Hollywood in his sights after over the past couple of years turning two of his hit plays Dream On and Celluloid (both starting life here in Manchester) into successful film adaptations.

Adapting and directing them himself, the films were released on DVD (TLA releasing) to great success; Dream On was the number one gay/lesbian film on Amazon for many weeks. Recently Morgan opened his new play Beyond the Park to great reviews and plans to adapt that to film as well but in the meantime he is gearing up for the release of his latest film that he worked on with writer Neil Ely (who wrote the play Asylum of Grace that also opened in Manchester) called 3 in a Bed.

The film was selected to be screened at the Cinema Diverse Film Festival in Palm Springs and Lloyd has been out there promoting the film, the film was also named a festival favourite. The DVD will be out soon, in the meantime check out Dream On and Celluloid (both available on Amazon). Well done Lloyd, Neil and the cast and crew.

In Brief

Legendary artist Charles Busch comes to the UK (London, from the 11th Nov) for three nights only to do his cabaret act. This will mark the first time the Tony Nominated and Sundance winner will have played the UK. His plays Die,Mommie, Die! and Psycho Beach Party had their UK premieres here in Manchester in 2011. More on Charles and his UK dates later in the month.

JB Shorts will be back this October at its home at Joshua Brooks.

Fool for Love will open at the Kings Arms this Nov from 9 – 12.

My own company will be opening our production of Porno Chic this Nov at the Kings Arms (25 -29 Nov) telling the story of legendary porn actor Harry Reems who starred in the most successful adult movie of all time Deep Throat.

Following the rise and fall of the star, the making of the legendary movie and the fall out caused by the reaction by the US government, Porno Chic is satirical, dramatic, controversial and very adult.

And make sure to get booking for Iris (3MT), Rent (Dancehouse), Mothers Bloomers (Kings Arms) and A Christmas Carol (Great Northern Playhouse).

So lots to check out and celebrate in the world of Manchester Fringe, as vibrant, diverse and exciting as always.

Till next time!