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February 12, 2012

A View from the London Fringe Theatre

by Val Reynolds
Mme Tussaud, photo Tim Parker

Mme Tussaud, photo Tim Parker

Readers familiar with my contributions to In Balance magazine will know I’m not the greatest fan of formal, expensive West End plays, nor of the plethora of crowd-pleading musicals that come and go. So as usual, I have been spreading my theatre-going activity amongst the smaller stages of the London’s fringe theatres.

New venues pop up from time to time, and it was one of these, that had albeit been in existence for a little while unbeknown to me, that I visited recently. It’s the New Diorama Theatre, tucked just off the busy Euston Road in Regent’s Place, a new development of offices and housing which has a pleasant village-like feel about it. I was pleased to learn from the charming members of staff there that there is a statutory obligation to include a community space in such new developments, which is how the theatre came into being. It has, of course, a cafe cum snack restaurant which hits all the right modern buttons, lots of organic stuff, herbal teas and sausages made from happy free-ranging pigs!

But back to the theatre. The production I saw was Waxing Lyrical, the story of Marie Tussaud, a one-woman show featuring Judith Paris who I have watched performing other such shows in the past about different women, each one mesmerizing. This tale of the enterprising wax-worker from Switzerland, to France and the revolution of 1789 and beyond, and then to her life in England was both informative and entertaining.

A Walk On Part – The Fall of New Labour PosterOn to the Soho Theatre in Dean Street to see the excellent adaption of Chris Mullin MP’s diaries entitled: A Walk On Part – The Fall of New Labour. Another excellent evening out, with a very talented actor taking the part of the writer, and four others playing a total of 96 parts! Not quite an impressions show, but close sometimes; you have to commend an actor who can bring Tony Blair, Tony Benn and Denis Skinner (among others) to the stage, all of them quite convincingly!

Finally that week, to one of my favourite local venues, the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, to see one of their admirable verbatim plays, The Riots. Again, with actors playing several parts each, including politicians, this was not just a worthy exercise but a truly engrossing evening presenting, as they used to say on a now-forgotten US television show ‘just the facts, man’. The Tricycle is not always so serious and worthy, though. They are currently reviving their excellent Stones In Their Pockets, and bringing a new Alan Ayckbourn to their stage in the spring – Neighbourhood Watch runs from 10 April to 5 May.

Needless to say, tickets for all the above productions were very good value for money; and the average for a concessionary ticket was around £10.

And now to an apology. I wrote recently in the pages of this magazine of my outrage at the increase of ticket prices at the newly refurbished Swiss Cottage Odeon, just weeks after its opening. I have since discovered that I was wrong to condemn them thus, but not entirely. It seems that they have adopted the most complicated of ticket pricing systems. So there are indeed relatively cheap seats still, dependent on the time of day, the film you want to see and which of the many screens it’s playing in. But it seems that for the majority of films, the price is quite out of proportion to a simple visit to the cinema; I’m not talking about the live performances of opera or theatre, which, though I have yet to see one, will obviously benefit enormously from the great technological advances the cinema boasts of, but of relatively ubiquitous films that could be viewed at a cinema down the road for almost half the price.

Call me old-fashioned, but I do get a bit fed up with the amounts of choice we have these days. I find it confusing enough to have to choose utility suppliers or simply a type of coffee in a cafe; I’d just like to go to my local cinema and know that all the films in all the screens are the same price!

Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic

A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

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