Thursday, September 09, 2010

52 weeks, 52 fringe venues: Venue #1 Theatre 503

[For the full lowdown on the '52 weeks, 52 fringe venues' challenge see here]

Before I start anything else I’m just going to throw in the fact that just as few minutes up the road from Theatre 503 is a charity shop which sells all its paperback fiction books for 50p. I could have bought some Iris Murdoch but, in honour of the start of a blog quest, I went for Julie and Julia. Having read a few chapters of said book, however, I should clarify that in this quest there will be both fewer mentions of mayonnaise and of my ovaries. I take this to be a good thing, but we shall see.

In terms of Fringe-shock Theatre503 is pretty much the equivalent of standing in the shallow end of the fringe pool whilst wearing arm bands. Residing above the Latchmere pub (good smelling Sunday lunch should you be tempted) it comes with awards and names. It also has a formidable writers development programme, which I mention if only for the fact that I like that sort of thing. And, also, because if I start this Fringe journey with any bias it is the following:

If the fringe is doing anything it should be new writing/performance and not the seventeen-hundredth production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this year.

I equate fringe with ‘risk’. And there is very little with more risk than the ‘new’.

Theatre503 is all about the new and, maybe fittingly, I ended up watching PLAYlist, one of their pick ‘n’ mix evenings. Since I’m here and throwing all my biases on to the floor I should admit, if my obsession with listing didn’t give it away, I love making playlists. And 503’s particular playlist was always going to have special resonance with me since PLAYlist was created for Latitude 2010, using songs of acts on the lineup. Made-for-me. Especially when “Boy with the Arab Strap” was played into the auditorium pre-show.

The pieces themselves were all – at the very least – well made. I had my pedantic heckles raised by one that was supposedly set at (what I assumed) was Latitude but which smacked of the fact that, at least when written, the writer had never been to Latitude (some times I recognise I am a nightmare of an audience member). The two that really sparked, however, were Ben Ockrent’s The Other Side of the Fence and Colin Teevan’s Arse. Ockrent’s just had a beautiful conceit at its heart that was played perfectly and which, I imagine, worked superbly in the realms of the Latitude tent (no, I am not saying more, the conceit is everything and to reveal it would be to spoil the piece).

Teevan’s piece, however, took its song (Florence + the Machine’s “You’ve Got the Love”) and made the stage time as beguiling and epic as the artist from which its inspiration came. And, just for a further challenge, Teevan took on William Shakespeare (and, erm, the play I might have mentioned above) too. At its best theatre isn’t about the size of the stage you’re on or that there’s a pub full of people downstairs or even that you’ve only got the length of a song to express your thoughts – it’s about the ideas and the world you create. That world and those ideas can be huge. And in the sheer aspiration and verve of Arse Teevan’s world – and its single performer – was enormous.

Fringe Quest Lowdown:

Production: PLAYlist (various writers)

Type of space: Black box studio, above a pub.

Type of productions: New work (specifically new writing). Predominantly in house but can be hired.

Nearest Station: Clapham Junction (at my pace a good 15 minute walk . At anyone else’s probably 10). Should you be tempted (I wasn’t) the walk also includes an array of different takeaways.

Seating: Padded benches, with a suitably sized rake. Very comfortable, though limited leg room. I’m 5ft 3.5inches though, so I laugh in the face of such concerns.

Condition of toilets: Good.

Bar produce: Only had a diet coke as I’d been to a 30th birthday party the night before (£1.50). Food looks and smells good. Friend I bumped into post show had very acceptably priced glass of house white. Drinks can be taken into the theatre. There's also a meal deal for ticket holders.

Other comments: The only venue I know of which has reusable tickets. Good for their costs (and the environment), bad for the hoarders like me who like to obsessively keep their tickets. Also, no one so much as sniffled at me taking a large overnight bag into the auditorium.

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