Thursday, October 21, 2010


"You, as a woman and a writer, have to translate this" BillyTheKid says pushing a piece of paper over the table to me.

BillyTheKid and I are in a pub post La Boheme (there seemed something strangely apt on the day the Arts Council had its budget cut by 30% of going to see an opera about starving artists who have to burn their plays and suchlike in order to keep warm. There's something for us all to look forward to.)

I look at what is now in front of me. It reads:

Would you like to come for a drink? I'm not a sexual predator but it wouldn't be just as friends, you know ;-)

The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them: "You can't send her that!"

BillyTheKid is animated in his response: "I know! That's why you have to translate it!"

This, as far as I can see, is a lot of pressure. On this one text could lie the future of BillyTheKid and Alice Cooper's relationship. I know of Alice Cooper only by reputation and thus - the margin for error is quite high even though I am, as noted, both a woman and a writer.

"The problem with it is that there's no subtext. And as a Playwright I'd write 'would you like to go for a drink?' and then the actor would play the subtext".

BillyTheKid may be at the centre of the romantic quandry but he remains an actor on his second pint.

"Would you like to come for a drink?".

He is all wide-eyed. I laugh.

"See, I was playing the subtext with my eyes. But I can't do that by text".

I sense this might be a conversation destined to go round in circles. And even with my capacity for linguistic over-analysis I might not be able to keep up with it.

It's my last hope. "Maybe just text her about something that has nothing to do with this?"

Should I ever want to remember what I did on the 20th October this is it.

"I can't make Harry content or stop Kate from hurting...any more than we could stop the war by marching or get tuition fees dropping by protesting our local MP. All I can do is be around when they need me and help clear up afterwards."

I wrote that line in the Autumn of 2003, coming as it does towards the end of Some Sort of Beautiful. It's from the mouth of Will, the character who in political terms I most identify myself (though, as is the way, he is most definitely a Lib Dem, I'm - though I only realised how much so this year - resolutely Labour). Did I think this aching realisation for Will meant that he would give up trying? Absolutely not. There is no way that my fictional Will could concede that change is not possible any more than I could.

On election day this year I took lots of photos of "my day". I'm not a big photo-taker, prefering the stealth method of stealing other people's. "The end of days" I joked with Arsenal Fan that night as we sat in his living room and ate pizza and watched result by result unable to go to sleep through a combination of stomach twisting hope and blind terror. A few days later once again I sat in in that living room and cried as it became clear what was going to happen.

On Tuesday night, coming home from Ivan and the Dogs - a play of poverty and desolation and quiet sadness, I felt a wave of despair that I could only link back to that day in May. I could sit here and list all the things that I disagreed with about Labour policy (and that would take some time) but I knew, however loosely in some cases, we were bound by the same ideology. But this Government? I went to Oxford, I hung out in the Union, I saw what these boys were. As @pennyb articulated on twitter "None of these people have ever had to choose between food and heating. We do."

For all the rhetoric there is nothing "fair" about the Comprehensive Spending Review, any more than the idea that "we are all in this together". How many people does Osborne know who are on benefit? How many people does he know that (already) cannot get a job (not because they don't want to - but because they can't)? How many people does Osborne know who will lose their jobs (and not have a nice inheritance to fall back on)? How many people on Disability Living Allowance does Osborne know? That the harshest, most damning cuts since 1918 which will result in upwards of 500,000 people losing their jobs, was delivered with jokes, and back slappings, and cheering from the Conservative and Liberal benches is more than disgusting - it shows total contempt for the reality of what was being done. These aren't just words and numbers, politcal showboating, each statistic is a person.

I have a huge personal investment in what is being done. My grandparents on both sides lived in council housing all of their lives . My father left school at 15, my mother at 16. Neither were Grammar School kids, so my father - following his father - went into the building trade, my mother facing the "choice" of hairdressing, factory work or secretarial school did day release whilst working in an office. My father would have loved to have been a journalist, my mother long-harboured desires of being a Librarian. Eventually my father did a part-time evening course at, what was then, Leeds Poly, qualified as a Quantity Surveyor. We lived in council housing in East Leeds until I was eight when, in what my Dad still says is the best financial move he ever made, he bought a house. All of my mother and father's siblings are now house owners. I was part of the first generation of my family to go to University (both myself and my sister have degrees, as does one of my cousins). I sit here, living in London, with that degree from Oxford as well as my Masters, actively persuing a career in something I love and I want every state school girl to have the opportunities that I had.

Even deeper than that - my nineteen year old brother has, along with the usual hotch-potch of surrounding conditions, a fairly acute case of autism. It is unlikely he will ever be able to work enough to support himself. He relies on state support (along, of course, with much unrecognised and unpaid for support from my parents) and for him to be reassessed (as he will be) is more traumatic than Osborne would ever be able to imagine. My youngest brother, for medical reasons, is taught in a special unit. In July Leeds council attempted to withdraw this education (on the basis that they had to save money). My father, not one to sit back, researched educational law and placed Education Leeds in such a position that they were forced to offer my brother a place at the unit. At the time I said - but what about the children whose parents can't do that?

You might have noticed that my father works in the construction industry (and, of course, we're not building new houses any more). The company he worked for having gone bust, he's been unemployed for over six months now and, as the Leeds skyline attests, this isn't an industry that's recovering.

So, I'm angry. I'm angry because I know of what Osborne and Cameron and Clegg do not.

And if I - and everyone like me - don't do something, who will?

I wrapped up - though clearly two pairs of tights were not quite enough to prevent the cold numbing my toes - and joined the anti-cuts rally that was taking part outside of Downing Street last night. And it was worth the cold and the numb toes to feel that my anger was not alone.

What the range of speakers made clear was that we need to convey the message. It's a lie that Labour's overspending caused the deficit. A banking crisis caused a global recession (and the Conservatives were wanting less, not more, regulation of the banks prior to this). There are many things I would lay at Labour's door but over-spending is not one of them. It's a lie that the CSR is "fair". Let us be clear - it hits women and the young and the disabled and those who have little already the hardest. Everyone should be made to read Johann Hari's superb - and urgent - analysis. It is wholly wrong when, knocking £8 billion off of the welfare system, Osborne excuses Vodafone from a £6 billion tax bill. And the thought that the Lib Dems have thrown away pretty much everything they stood for in order to get a chance at AV (which will most likely fail) and 22 Ministerial positions makes me almost physically sick. If I had a Lib Dem MP I would be banging on his or her door and asking how they sleep at night.

And for all I opened this with something suggesting the futility I don't think this is futile. This isn't a Conservative majority of the style of Labour in 1997. Everything is a little bit more murky. Regardless of which, how would I look myself in the mirror each day if I knew I sat back and did nothing whilst so much that I value was destroyed for ideological reasons under the guise of economic necessity?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Have you missed blog posts about David Tennant? I have.

If twitter never again gives me anything all will be okay if only for the fact that whilst reading it between Henry IVs on Tuesday I discovered that David Tennant had been confirmed as appearing in Celebrity Autobiography at Leicester Square Theatre (ah, that would be Venue Four of 52:52). And - to my total surprise - there were still tickets available. Approximately three minutes later there was one less ticket available as I'd taken my place in the second row.

The internet is truly a glorious thing.

And do you know what else is glorious? How close the seats are to the stage in the main auditorium at the Leicester Square Theatre. Touching distance it could be said (as, erm, I did on twitter as soon as I realised).

The premise of Celebrity Autobiography is clear enough: celebrities write terrible autobiographies littered with little irony and practically no self awareness or perspective. Celebrity Autobiography puts these books into the hands of funny, intelligent people who see the irony and/ or tedium and the audience watches these people read extracts. And, if you have even a passing interest in popular culture, it is a joyously good idea. To add some shade to the evening they also perform mashups of autobiographies (either in the Glee style of ones that work well - and by well here I mean comically - together or in the style of a he said-she said about related events). When first out is The Guy from Ugly Betty reading David Hasselhoff you know you're in for a treat.

My particular treat is more in the form of semi-bearded David Tennant reading David Cassidy's detailing of a somewhat unsatisfying sexual encounter with one of the Patridge family. Tennant's all bemused unknowingness and surprised failure as he recounts what can only be considered a case of too much information.

I get a little surprise at this point as DT announces the next people on stage and one of them is Lady I Gave A Two Star Review in Edinburgh this year. Lady I Gave A Four Star Review is also a member of this Destiny's Child, which adds to the group dynamic I think. Irrationally I feel a wave of guilt when Lady I Gave A Two Star Review makes me laugh. Goddamn reviewing guilt.

Luckily I'm saved by N*Sync (which is not something I ever expected to say) who, to no surprise, give good dull. DT gets to be a goofy JC relating a story of the time his trousers split on stage, a story which has so much repitition that Tennant's timing earns himself the only audience participation line of the night.

There's a group read-through of Britney giving us such insights as crying on film requires you to act and that she had a tuna sandwich for lunch. Once again Lady I Gave a Two Star Review makes me laugh hard. What can I say - she should stick to crappy celebrity output delivered with attitude.

With some deliberateness Celebrity Autobiography finishes with a mashup of genius in the form of the autobiographies of Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor. The Guy from Ugly Betty gets a cameo of genuis providing a running commentary on which number husband of Elizabeth Taylor's any given man is (funny and informative). It's DT's Richard Burton that I've been waiting for though.

On cue DT steps forward. He's all deliberate swagger and smooth arrogance as, with force, he pulls open the top few buttons of his shirt before grabbing the microphone stand. The audience laughs and whoops and nothing happens for a few seconds other than DT standing there with the manhandled microphone. Which means people whoop even more. And - well, you get the impression. This could quite easily have gone on for another three hours if it weren't for the fact that I'm sure front of house would have evicted us by then.

When he does speak, for the first time of the evening, he doesn't use his own accent. Burton, obviously, is deep and Welsh and DT's body holds itself to meet it.

It is, quite simply, wonderful.

And then - it is over.

I'm full of a haze of joy as I leave the auditorium. Though not so full of joy that I've stopped listening to other people's conversations because I am, let it be clear, nosey.

"He was brilliant" says an American voice

I listen in to see who the "he" might be.

"I've never watched Doctor Who but really awesome".

So, if you were shaking your head at my unashamed bias, we have it quantified. People who don't watch Doctor Who thought he was awesome too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

52 weeks, 52 fringe venues: Venue #11 Hampstead Theatre

"So you use the tube a lot?" a blonde-haired lady asks as we stand wedged in the tin which is masquarading as a rush-hour tube train.

Firstly - yes, we're having a conversation between strangers on a tube during rush hour. Neither of us are (to my knowledge) drunk. What we both are, however, is from the North. Where people talk to each other on public transport. I know - odd isn't it?

Secondly - I have perfected my outward travelling-like-tinned-sardines nonchalance to such a degree that I am mistaken for an expert in these matters. The truth is really: I have spent more time on the tube in the last six weeks than I have at any other point during my London residency. But that requires a lot more explaining than is possible on a Metropolitan train hurtling towards Kings Cross.

[This is where I add: I should not have been using the Met line but, obviously, my old friend the Jubilee line was part suspended. I'm thinking it's not going to work out between the two of us.]

"I live in South East London where there aren't really any tube lines so not all the time. Maybe once a week or so..."

And, given the man behind me is currently in the sort of proximity to me that would normally require him to at least have supplied me with a bottle of wine, I don't scream out that the tube makes me die a little inside.

But welcome to the 52:52 version of Corinne, fooling people who don't read her blog that she doesn't care about using the tube since 2010.

What I do care about is stepping out of Finchley Road tube station to discover I have no 3G. And, obviously, BT Openzone says it's there but if it is it's being powered by a small gerbil and thus is of no use to me. And since I've got all iPhone-smug I've stopped carrying my A-Z book in my handbag for situations like this.

I have no idea where I'm going.

Which is worse than when I got lost going to Venue 5 because at least in that case I knew where the British Library was. I don't know where anything in Camden is.

At the point where I am about to concede that the gerbil isn't peddling fast enough and I might have to make like a tourist and ask someone, my 3G flickers into life and I am so happy that if there was an Orange representative around I'd kiss them before I punched them in the face.

Just to make this bit all the more ridiculous it turns out that had I peered right and squinted my eyes I'd probably have been able to see the lights from Swiss Cottage tube station (from where I know my way to Hampstead Theatre). Technology has robbed me of any remaining common sense that I possessed.

What technology has give me, however, is free wine. For I'm at Hampstead Theatre because it's a special "New Media" night and in their wisdom Hampstead are plying theatre bloggers with free alcohol. If they'd thrown in some cake they'd have had me signed up to the building for life.

In all seriousness though, having a pro-active new media evening filled me with a little bit of joy. I'm not going to re-hash why organisations should value theatre blogging (because I said it over the course of hundreds of words in my "paean to the online theatre community"*), and I'm not saying that value should necessarily be shown in wine and theatre programmes (one of the unexpected outcomes of 52:52 thus far is that I've felt very valued by a number of venues and this is the first time anyone has proffered a pre-show free drink). But if I were working in a PR department of a theatre I'd be inviting theatre bloggers along (or at least giving them some sort of a deal) on Monday nights (who goes to the theatre on a Monday night, after all? Hardened theatre-nuts and pretty much no one else, that's who).

But back to Hampstead. I know we could have the "is this a Fringe venue?" conversation right here but I refer you once again back to the rules of 52:52, for it is firmly listed under "Major Fringe venues" in my dog-earred non-virtual Theatregoers' Handbook. We'll come back to it, undoubtedly, when I write a ten thousand word essay on what "fringe" might be (don't all shout for joy at once). What the Hampstead clearly is, however, is a new writing venue. Its niche (yes, that word again!) has become a little less clear in recent years - by which it isn't filled with the new-writing/ now-writing urgency of the Royal Court or Theatre503 or (even) The Tricycle. And - this is an admission that probably shames me as much as the Hampstead - I've never previously felt the need to drag myself on to the tube to visit. Hampstead however have a new Artistic Director at the helm (Ed Hall, who directed a version of The Winter's Tale that remains my definitive version) and a programme which has mutiple things in it that I would be willing to get on a tube for (that's praise if ever there was praise).

Which is all good and exciting and I'm happy with my wine and the building is lovely and interesting in a modern-you're-going-into-a-spaceship type way. And Shelagh Stephenson's Enlightenment has a quote from Tom Stoppard's Hapgood in the programme.

Now - let me through my bias out here (once more). I am a science-play semi-obsessive. More even than that I remain thrilled (if duly mystified) by Quantum theory. So when a play's programme starts talking about chaos theory - I'm in.

Adam has gone missing during his gap year, his parents wait not knowing if he's alive or dead**. Then, without warning, they recieve a call to say that he's alive. All is not, however, how it seems.

Even the most rudimentary knowledge of the mechanics of script writing brings you into contact with the idea of the starting point of your play being an "inciting incident" which changes something for the characters and thus causes your play to happen. The inciting incident in Enlightenment happens ten seconds before the interval. Thus what should have been a taut-one-act-psychological-thriller turns into a baggy quasi-mystery which throws up lots of clever ideas but never seems to embody any of them.

What the most successful plays about science do is, in their very structure, become a metaphor for the science they're exploring. One of the many joys of Complicite's A Disappearing Number is that its fractured timeline and competing relationships become a dynamic rendering of the maths its seeks to illuminate. Quantum theory seems particularly well suited to mysteries, Stoppard's Hapgood takes up espionage whilst Unlimited's superb Tangle is, at its heart, a dectective story. Enlightenment's failure to commit to a form leaves it wanting, with plenty of nice lines that enlighten little. Indeed Stephenson's inability to fuse the ideas within the play means that characters spend large amounts of time telling rather than showing. Which perspective is the right one? How does one tiny event lead to a bigger, seemingly unconnected, event? What connects East and West? What is responsibility? For all the talking, I don't know that Enlightenment truly has anything original to say about any of it, least of all about quantum theory.

Francis O'Connor's design and Edward Hall's direction gives the production a nicely disconcerting, slightly clinical feel - though I'm not convinced that the coldness it generates helps what Stephenson's text actually is as opposed to what it aspires to be.

*I'm quoting The Guardian there. Because it's not old yet.

** Or, if Stephenson had thought to engage more completely, he is both alive and dead. That's one for the fans of Schrodinger's cat.

Fringe Quest Lowdown:

Production: Enlightenment by Shelagh Stephenson

Type of space: Two level amphi-theatre style auditorium, plus studio space.

Type of productions:New writing, in house productions.

Nearest Station: Opposite Swiss Cottage if the Jubilee Line happens to be working. Down the road from Finchley Road if not.

Seating: Individual seats (allocated), with good padding and leg room. Good rake.

Condition of toilets: Modern and plentiful.

Bar produce: Bar already busy and full by time I arrived just before 7.00pm, so if you want a table go early.

Other comments: Seriously, good call on the blogging thing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

52 weeks, 52 fringe venues: Venue #10 artsdepot

Forget theatres, the subplot of 52:52 is going to be about my using the Tube. Even I admit that's not particularly interesting given the amount of people who use it on a daily basis and undoubtedly make a lot less fuss about it than me.

So - in case you didn't guess the undercurrent there - visiting artsdepot meant that I had to use the tube. During rush hour on a Friday night. Needless to say - it was crowded. It was hot. I shot disdainful looks at people. I also went further up the Northern Line than I ever have before. It's probably worth noting that though I've wanted to see Stan's Cafe for some time the combination of a three hour show and a two hour + round trip on a school night would, under normal circumstances, have ruled me out. But such is the self-inflicted pressure of 52:52 (for, though I'd seen four shows already this week, none of them counted under the rules), with the added element of 'why am I doing this if not to make me see things I'd love to see but am normally too lazy to go to', I brushed off my reservations. Is 52:52 making me a better theatre-goer? Certainly it's making me a more obsessional one. I'll come back to you as to whether this is a good thing or not.

artsdepot is all glass and high ceilings and shiny modernity. Also - it has an escalator. This is notable because in all my experience of theatre venues the only other one I can think off hand that has an escalator is the Royal Opera House. So, yes, I was impressed. More than its impressive building though it's got the feeling of a space that is used - there's even a children's play area in the large (and cheap) cafe. It feels like this is where art - in the broadest sense of the word art - is important. It is, even on a Friday night in October, a doing place rather than a watching place.

Tuning Out with Radio Z is the opposite of a passive piece of theatre. Devised afresh each night Radio Z not so much tells a straight forward narrative (though there is a story) as tells a feeling. On stage is a radio show, outside of this room something has happened that is causing "the city" to be evacuated. We never find out exactly what that "something" is (though we know there's fog, or smog, or gas or something filling the air) or where people are or aren't being evacuated to, or indeed if there is in reality anyone or anything outside the confines of the room. Between the radio-styled banter different scenarios between the two presenters play out so you're never quite sure of their relationship either. Added to this there are four shrouded figures asleep on stage. And when I say asleep - I mean, actually asleep.

That's not where this show ends though. You're told beforehand that you can bring laptops and phones and interact. It's a radio show after all. So you can text, you can email and, possibly most interestingly, there's a forum where you can log in and not only post things but also see what everyone else is posting (and this includes James Yarker, the Director of the piece).

This takes me a little time to get straight in my head - firstly I'm acutely aware of having my phone on my lap (even though turned to silent). Secondly I'm not sure of what the 'rules' of engagement are. Do I have to wait until I'm solicited? Should I start texting things like "spatula"*? Thirdly, it takes a bit of juggling to operate technology and get your head into the piece. I log on to the forum but quickly decide that, given I'm using my phone, it's too time consuming for me to post through it so I take the text option. The girl sitting next to me is taking the text option too, though she's missing the point slightly I feel by texting her friend about the show: "It's some weird art thing but it's amusing". Quite.

What emerged was that, as much as the thought of there being no rules of engagement puzzled me (conditioned as I am by many, many years of sitting in Proscenium arch theatres), it was up to us as individuals to make our own rules. You could take the traditional improvisation route (at some point someone communicated 'go to the toilet', so one of the presenters did). You could interact directly with the radio show (there was an ongoing thread about odd - and probably rubbish - museums as well as the traditional 'play this song for...'). You could take a third option, however, and become a character caught up in whatever was happening outside, becoming a citizen journalist from your seat. The narrative was what we made of it.

Rather late on in the process I realised there was something else at work. Through the forum (for I'd cracked the multi-tasking required after thirty minutes or so) I saw one of my texts be put into the forum by the director. Rather than being directly read out and attributed to a listener, however, it became a piece of dialogue. It clicked for me that there was a much subtler way we, as the audience, could use our power.

At last count I've seen just under 100 productions this year, none of them has challenged my notion of what theatre might be as much as Radio Z. For all its use of technology there was nothing gimmicky or showy about it - the technology was so integral and natural that it couldn't be separated out from the performance. Walking out of the theatre I wished I could go see the show again, not only out of intrigue in how different it might be on another night, but because I wished, now I knew what the rules of engagement were, that I could experience it again. I wanted to be bolder. To interact more. To push against it and see what might happen.

It's appropriate that Radio Z asks more questions than it answers. I've expended hundreds of words on it and I haven't really gotten on to those sleeping people, or the moment I realised that there was a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice going on, or on my take about what the show was about (I'm not saying exactly what this is because I think everyone should be able to make their own version, using their imagination as well as their phones - but I will say that the clue is in the title). I haven't written about how interesting I found watching what the director chose to publish on the forum or the fact that though you were allowed to come in and out of the performance I sat through all three hours without once feeling the need to move. I haven't even written about fear or joy or pain, all of which Radio Z evoked for me.

So 52:52 and artsdepot, I think I owe you one.

*It might just be the audiences which BattleActs Improv garners but the command to shout out a kitchen implement is always met by four fifths of the room shouting "spatula".

Fringe Quest Lowdown:

Production: Tuning Out with Radio Z (Stan's Cafe)

Type of space: Modern conversation of older space, glass and high ceilings and bright colours. Multiple spaces, the studio I was in had seating on three sides.

Type of productions: Range of "high quality" performing and visual arts. Receiving house with inhouse projects.

Nearest Station: Between West Finchley, Central Finchley and Woodside Park tube. Most obvious - and best lit - route (though not the shortest) from Central Finchley.

Seating: Individual seats (allocated), comfortable with good leg room and very good rake.

Condition of toilets: As modern and functional as rest of building - which is also to say that there is an appropriate number of them.

Bar produce: Bar with snacks. £1.60 for a Diet Coke and a mini-muffin. And it was a chocolate one.

Other comments: In a moment of ticket confusion the Box Office staff thought I looked young enough to get A Night Less Ordinary ticket. artsdepot I love you a little bit for that.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

52 weeks, 52 fringe venues: Venue #9 Brockley Jack

"Now we look like newcomers!" the man at the table next to me exclaims.

The woman with him sits down. "But we are newcomers".

"Yes, but we don't want to look like we are".

I can't help it, I laugh out loud. I'm in the process of reading twitter so it's plausible that I might have been laughing at something I'd read rather than listening into conversations at the next table. But, let the record state, I was not. I was laughing at you, you odd man.

The man's disquiet had been caused by his not quite knowing how things work at the Brockley Jack. Because that's the point with Fringe venues - they're all a little bit different and quirky with how things work. At the Brockley Jack it's a case of waiting for the bell to ring before you go into the auditorium (and it's a big bell so you can't miss it).

I can say this because Brockley Jack is my local. See - that's my smugness right there. Though, obviously, I'm in the midst of going to lots of venues I've never been to before so I think I'm allowed to balance that newcomer-ness out with this venue.

I'm coming to think you might all be getting bored with me going on and on about niche this and niche that but it's something I'm starting to think might be a little important. Brockley Jack are in the midst of experimenting with what their niche might be - they've now got a literary manager and have put in place various schemes to work with writers who have a connection to Lewisham.

[Thought to return to later: to suceed (either commercially or critically) as a fringe venue do you need to have be clearly defined by i)the community you're in and/or ii)the genre/nature of work you do?]

The theatre itself is a well proportioned black box studio in the back room of the Brockley Jack pub. What the space has going for it (other than comfortable seating) is that it doesn't - in my experience - have a problem on the heating front. And by that I mean - you don't boil if there's more than ten of you in there. They do have some odd thing about making you leave they auditorium if the show has an interval, enforced sending to the bar actually pains me more than you'd expect.

But another night on the Fringe means another opportunity to me to fill some gaps in my knowledge of American theatre. Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981. Wikipedia tells me that it's been made into a film too - though given I know pretty much nothing about film this couldn't help me either. However it is an American family play in the best tradition of American family plays (one room, limited passage of time, lots of secrets, younger generation taking over from the older generation, great female roles - see, I wrote an analysis of 'the American family drama' for part of my dramaturgy portfolio, I knew it would come in useful).

I know this is going to sound like damning with faint praise but I was absolutely blown away by the set of Crimes of the Heart. Just a kitchen it might have been - but the attention to detail was outstanding. There were appropriate magnets on the (beautiful) fridge. There was actual coffee in the coffee maker (which, at one point, one of the actors re-made). And - water actually came out of the sink taps.

I'm going to repeat that in case you didn't realise the enormity of it. I'm in a pub theatre and there is a set so beautiful and well constructed that it has a sink with working taps. I don't think I've ever seen that on stage. This sounds like small things but in a play like Crimes of the Heart small things matter and it made me feel that this show mattered.

The play itself, sadly, is less impressive than the care and attention that had been lovingly given to it. My first inclination that something was up was when I couldn't date the play. You don't always need to date plays but when something's as naturalistic as there being working taps there's a chance that the year (or least the decade) might matter. The clothing led me to suspect we might be somewhere in the last few years and, eventually, a reference to Hurricane Katrina confirmed it. However, it didn't entirely sit right and I wasn't exactly surprised to discover that the play was originally set thirty years earlier.

Which did lead me to wonder: why? Things weren't working for me because though it was clearly well written, well acted and (obviously) well staged - it just didn't speak about now. There was nothing urgent that reached out and grabbed me. It simply was. And, however many working taps you throw at that, I don't suspect that this is a play I'll be writing about at the end of the year.

Fringe Quest Lowdown:

Production: Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley.

Type of space: Black box studio, large comfortable pub serving well priced food and snacks.

Type of productions: Varied - revivals, new work, in house and receiving. Has writer's group.

Nearest Station: Crofton Park/ Honor Oak (not Brockley, despite what the name might suggest)

Seating: Comfortable padded benches with good leg room. Good rake and sightlines throughout.

Condition of toilets: Modern and clean, womens upstairs so expect a little hike.

Bar produce: Full food menu, plus snacks.

Other comments: Wait until you hear the bell before attempting to get into the auditorium then you too can look like a regular.