Mind the Blog ‘on tour’ 2018

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I had such a good time travelling around for shows last year that I decided I should keep it up again this year. There may not be any international travel in there, but Mind the Blog has definitely covered a good proportion of Britain at least! With an incredible amount of irritation to be found in London (my mission to get people to walk on the correct side of the pavement has almost caused me to be shoved into the road, for example), it’s nice to see some different places that are usually slightly less annoying – and find some better value shows.

Gradually I’m trying to get some more out of town reviews for the blog, though it’s nice to have the odd BroadwayWorld UK trip as well, and I’m obviously not averse to paying for everything (without making a song & dance about it, unlike a certain well-known critic). I can’t wait to be back on my travels again next year – I already have a few things lined up!

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Liverpool

It would’ve been enough for me to just visit Liverpool – as a huge Beatles fan it’s criminal that I’d never gone before, but there we go. Within minutes of wandering along the Royal Albert Dock on my first visit I realised that this was somewhere I should definitely be living. So once I’m done with London, you know where I’ll be!

Sunny’s own Lloyd Gorman being cast as Shere Khan in The Jungle Book was all the incentive I required to organise my first trip in February (greeted by what I later learned was quite typical Liverpool gusts of wind!) – a lovely Thursday-Saturday break. And when I found out that the brilliant Golda Rosheuvel had been cast as Othello at the Everyman, I managed to squeeze in a second trip in May and got to explore a bit more of the city. According to the open top bus tour guide, there are eight theatres dotted around Liverpool – I’ve now ticked two of them off, so my next job is to get to the rest of them…

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Stratford-upon-Avon

As the Royal Shakespeare Theatre summer season shows tend to come down to the Barbican in the autumn, I felt no real urgency about booking for any of those shows (as much as I’d have loved to have seen Christopher Eccleston’s Macbeth a lot sooner) – but when I found out that Tam had been cast in The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, I immediately put my name down to review it. Later on it transpired that he’d also been cast in their new musical Miss Littlewood (about Joan Littlewood), so I obviously had to try and fit that in as well; it had been on my ‘maybe’ list, but it’s helpful when you’re given a reason to shift something to the ‘yes’ pile.

The winter season, by contrast, never seems to have any London transfers, so anything from that has to be seen up in Stratford. I’ve wanted to see Troilus and Cressida for ages, so that was immediately picked out – and as the same old Marlowes seem to be put on all the time I had to take advantage of Tamburlaine being on while I was up there.

It can be quite an expensive place to stay, but for my first overnighter I at least had a free ticket so I felt that splashing out on the Mercure (even requesting the Twelfth Night room!) – and second time round I found a nice value option which I’ll definitely consider returning to another time.

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe

I booked my accommodation back in March, but then procrastination set in and my planning was all a bit of a rush… Despite that, I somehow managed to sort out 21 reviews (and ended up reviewing my one non-review show, Harry and Chris Save the World) – as pleasing as it was to get everything for free, and to fit everything in so I could get between venues with relative ease, I definitely had too much on my plate. Talk about learning the hard way!

I fully intend on going back next year, but most likely for a slightly shorter stay – and mostly for leisure, giving me the option of reviewing if I want to, therefore not eating up most of my non-show time with writing up my reviews. At least I managed to have a little bit of a break and a catchup with people, but there was basically no time to rediscover Edinburgh. It would also be nice to be able to add in some shows to my schedule while I’m there, so if word’s getting out about anything in particular I can try to catch it.

In terms of the shows, I ended up doing a really good job in my selections: barely a dud in sight! I did shower the stars around a bit, but there was some top quality stuff on offer. And I’m obviously a good filter.

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Chichester

It’s always lovely to make it down to Chichester, though I do wish I could’ve gone to a few more shows. Me and My Girl was an absolute delight; I can’t deny that I was rather hoping that Matt Lucas’ understudy (Ryan Pidgen) was still on, but it was a fun show nonetheless. Alex Young is always fantastic value, and it was great to see Dominic Marsh again (after Tristan & Yseult last year, and more recently Romantics Anonymous).

Then later on in the season, once the brilliant Matthew Needham was announced as part of the cast for Mike Bartlett’s play Cock I decided to take on reviewing duty for BroadwayWorld UK – thankfully Chichester is sensible and starts press performances earlier, plus it was only about 90 minutes long. It was definitely worth the trip (despite the wait for caffeine & warmth)! A real highlight of the year.

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Coventry

This was a great discovery. Until I made the trip up earlier this year, I didn’t realise quite how short the journey was – so I definitely will be frequenting the Belgrade Theatre from now on. I was desperate to see the musical Sunshine on Leith, based on music from The Proclaimers, and just about the only time I could fit it in was during its stint in Coventry; I was so annoyed that I couldn’t make it to any of its Scotland dates once I’d seen it, as it was such a feel-good show.

Then later on in the year, I was very excited to see that an album which is very important to me had been made into a musical (We’ll Live and Die in These Towns) – and Adam from Sunny just so happened to have been cast in it! I was also very happy to have received a press invite to it, even though that meant a very late night/early morning…

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Bristol

In my bid to follow shows around, as well as check out some new places, I’ve rather neglected Bristol this year – there have been some great looking things on at the Bristol Old Vic (my usual haunt), but I’ve just not been able to fit in many trips. My two shows in Bristol were rather memorable ones though: the UK tour of Wicked and a new production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

Wicked was a very important one, as it meant seeing our lovely Amy as Elphaba – the biggest role of her career, and so well deserved. That basically meant that I spent most of the show crying! The rest of the time I was beaming with pride, and wishing that it wasn’t such an expensive show as I really wanted to see her again. And as the first version of The Cherry Orchard that I saw left me rather ambivalent, it was great to see one that really brought the story to life; a bonus for me was yet another stage seat at the Bristol Old Vic (it was being staged in the round), and the fact that the brilliant Kirsty Bushell was starring in it.

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North & Midlands

In following The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, I ended up in what was still then the West Yorkshire Playhouse (now Leeds Playhouse), HOME MCR and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate. The most eventful of these definitely had to be Manchester, as I ended up having to catch a train at about 7am because I got trigger happy booking my train tickets… And then it was raining so I couldn’t really explore the place. Next time!

I think I’d only ever consider visiting Hull for someone like James Graham – and so I found myself up there for The Culture – A Farce in Two Acts, a play celebrating Hull’s time as City of Culture. I’m really glad that this happened, as I’d definitely consider a return trip; Hull Truck Theatre is a nice little venue, and I’m sure there’s plenty of things I could’ve been exploring instead of just wandering aimlessly around… In a slightly less northern trip, I headed to Nottingham Playhouse for Sweet Charity – I’ve wanted to see that show for quite some time, so with Rebecca Trehearn leading a cast that included Sunny Em I couldn’t say no! Nottingham’s a lovely place, and I definitely want to head back there again soon.

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South

Most of these are very close to London, but I still count them as being ‘on tour’! I took advantage of being a 20-minute train ride away from Dartford, as I finally managed to see George in 20th Century Boy (my trip to Bromley for this ended rather prematurely), and a few months later Let It Be made its return there. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed Let It Be, and am definitely keeping my fingers crossed it returns to the West End at some point. Staying nearby, I discovered Eltham’s Bob Hope Theatre, where I ended up seeing a concert version of Across the Universe and an am dram version of Side Show.

On the other side, but not quite in London, was a pair of trips to Kingston – earlier in the year I went to see Silas in his first Shakespeare of the year (a rather bizarre production of Much Ado), and then I went on BroadwayWorld UK duty for the Hogarth’s Progress press day. Train drama for Hogarth has now made me unwilling to try and see anything there again, but I’m sure it won’t stop me.

Flying Lovers also took me to some southern venues, ranging from Salisbury Playhouse, Exeter Northcott and Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre in the west (the latter was a crazy late night/early morning journey, including a rail replacement bus service & multiple night buses), to Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, where it was part of the Brighton Festival (another late night for me!). Oxford Playhouse figured in both my Flying Lovers and Wise Children tours – the latter tour also took me to Cambridge Arts Theatre (where I met Emma Rice!).

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The ones that got away…

As ever, I’ve missed out plenty of other places:

  • The Crucible, Sheffield – on the list once again, this time for missing out on their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which featured music from Dan Gillespie-Sells;
  • Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – I really wanted to see Maxine Peake in Happy Days, as well as the current production of The Producers (it’s running until February but I doubt I’ll manage the trip);
  • Shakespeare in the Park, New York City – I had rather hoped to return to New York in time for their annual outdoor Shakespeare fest, but thankfully their Twelfth Night made its way over to the Young Vic so I didn’t completely miss out;
  • Pop-Up Rose Theatre, York – even though they were doing a lot of the same plays as other venues, it would’ve been nice to check out this new Shakespeare theatre in its first year;
  • Curve Theatre, Leicester – still on the list, as I’ve not managed to make the trip up there yet.

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