17th June – 2nd July 2017 – now over for 2017
Ludlow Fringe Festival comes alive and for three weeks. From music to theatre, live literature to comedy and cabaret, all the genres are covered. Here are our recommendations for this exciting event.
Browse the programme
This was our 2017 coverage…
Reviews at Ludlow Fringe
We are happy to host reviews of some shows at Ludlow Fringe.
Please note these are not offical FringeReview reviews and should not be credited as such. They were written by members of the Ludlow Fringe team.
Tales from Wales – Drew Taylor and Steffan Evans, Friday 23rd June, The Sitting Room, Ludlow.
Listening to Drew Taylor and Steffan Evans excellent routines you could be forgiven for thinking that Wales is no more than (as Evans puts it) “Deliverance without the soothing banjo music”. But perhaps that’s their point, as, for the Welsh, attack is the best form of defence. Both performers reduced Welsh life to a catalogue of self-deprecatory observations, each one delivered with measured and confident pace and greeted with delight by the charmed audience, some of whom were even Welsh themselves. Steffan gave us some marvellous physical jokes in his set while Drew gave us a lugubrious cynicism and punchlines delivered with real punch. Both performers show real promise for their future on the comedy circuit and their show was a delight from beginning to Welsh-draped flag end. 4*
End to End – Col Howarth, Fri 23rd June, The Sitting Room.
Out of the mouths of babes, sucklings and Col Howarth.
With his seemingly irrepressible cheeriness, the first time Col Howarth releases the dark side of his comedy persona, the shock makes you wonder whether you’ve actually heard him correctly, as in, did he really just say what I thought he said about running over that hedgehog.
Thereafter, part of the pleasure of his act is anticipating the next time something odd and vaguely disturbing is going to come out of that happy face, and he sprinkles those moments expertly enough for you to make sure you keep your ears pricked. His journey from End To End of the high street doesn’t get far as he veers off in various directions but you are happy to follow him because you never know what is around the next corner, from observations on the benefits of being a stand-up comedian (he’s been on them all his life, apparently) to the possible effects of canine cross-breeding. From what happens when you let different languages loose on rip-off brand-names to the place on the list of popular first names of his own (Colin, to some, Collateral to others, but never, as he points out with cutting-edge punctuation graphics, Colonel). And his juggling is a delight.
Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets do Shakespeare – Kev F Sutherland, Sat 24th June, The Sitting Room
It is often said that Shakespeare never wrote a funny joke in his life. It may even be true. What is certain is that the bard never wrote a joke remotely as funny as the one come up with by the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre about the negotiations between Richard III and the bloke who answered his emergency call of “a kingdom for a horse” at the battle of Bosworth Field.
Just to be sure, I ran it past a few friends and their unanimous reaction confirmed my original impression. So, without much further ado, I now have the honour of announcing that their show does indeed feature the greatest Shakespeare-related gag of all time.
Not that their show isn’t packed with loads more. It is! It’s just that this one is bloody hilarious and it alone is worth the price of admission from now until the end of history.
In fact, I’ve just told it to myself again and… give me a moment….
Go see the show for yourself and tell me I’m wrong. If you do not laugh out loud a lot I’ll eat my shorts. 5*
Mr Merrick, The Elephant Man – Lucky Dog Theatre, Sunday 25th June, The Sitting Room.
Ludlow was fortunate tonight, if it only but knew it. We had in our midst Lucky Dog Theatre, a talented duo of actors who brought us two shows worthy of any Independent theatre run. Real class.
We were treated firstly to a dramatisation of the sad final years of Joseph Merrick who was born in mid-Victorian London with severe deformities and rescued from a freak show by Frederick Treves. We know (at least those of us who saw John Hurt portray him so perfectly on film in The Elephant Man know) that Merrick is grotesque to look at and hard to understand. In ‘Mr Merrick, The Elephant Man’ Merrick is played using clever minimal cheek padding to distort the face and achieve the vocal sound we expect from Merrick who is beautifully well-spoken but difficult to listen to. This is one of the show’s great triumphs; to allow the audience to have Merrick clearly portrayed in their own imagination instead of accurately (but perhaps patronisingly), visually portrayed on stage.
Tony Carpenter as Merrick and Philip Hutchinson (also the author) as Treves gave supremely confident performances, both actors completely inhabiting their roles. Additional roles were played by others yet there were only ever two live actors on stage. Lucky Dog have perfected a method of introducing characters using filmed sequences projected life size onto a casual bedsheet backdrop. This is such a neat solution and wonderfully clever; at one point turning a lecture on Merrick’s deformities into a debate on the morality of “displaying“ him at the London Hospital using sequential filmed actors in costume.
The whole production was beautifully realised with note-perfect delivery on all fronts. Fabulous graphics and enhanced Victorian cinema footage with sound added made for a satisfying overall experience. The performances were all outstanding and really moving, mesmerisingly delivered. 5*
Bethnal Green – Lucky Dog Theatre, Sunday 25th June, The Sitting Room.
On the evening of the 3 March 1943 173 people were killed in a crush descending the steps hurrying into the London Underground station entrance at Bethnal Green in the East End of London. The East End of course had suffered the worst bombing of the blitz so the locals weren’t hanging around; the air raid siren had sounded and so people were taking shelter. A woman tripped up and in the ensuing crush 300 people got tangled up and many of the casualties died of suffocation.
The extraordinary aspect of this appalling tragedy was that, (despite it ultimately being the biggest civilian loss of life in the UK in the Second World War), the story was immediately hushed up and people were instantly sworn to secrecy as “careless talk costs lives” and the Government were keen to suppress any potential panic and preserve morale. The trauma of the events of that day festered within the Bethnal Green community for generations.
Lucky Dog do that simple (but brilliantly effective) technique of simply letting the facts speak for themselves within a dramatisation. This multi-tongued character-talented duo recite the testimonies of all those involved; the injured, the rescuers, the survivors, delivering each of the stories in turn with a straightforwardness and blandness which only accentuates the tragedy of each individual story. There’s a sense of Mass Observation archive material about the show which heightens its poignancy. These stories are the Real Thing, no embellishment is needed to picture the full horror and the full tragedy of what these people have seen and have to report.
Unfortunately recent events for us now in the 21st Century have echoes from the past in this wartime cover-up: the authorities then as now not wanting to spend money, safety measures deemed “unnecessary” and “a disaster waiting to happen” being a view expressed, then as now.
‘Bethnal Green’ is a timely, honourable, brilliant show using the source material with huge respect and presenting it using the simplest of methods; flashes and flashbacks, dark testimonies delivered in darkness, white noise testimony sounds obliterating truths. It’s a tour de force by both actors and a wonderfully moving and thought-provoking evening. 5*
The Establishment – Dan Lees and Neil Frost, Thurs 29th June, The Sitting Room
Dan Lees and Neil Frost presented themselves as The Establishment, two quintessentially English gentlemen from a bygone era struggling to hold on to their values, wealth and power. Their surreal take on life included swipes at politics, cricket, hunting, shooting and colonialism with a pot-shot or two at modern morals and arms deals. Delivered at breakneck pace, this show is some madcap love child of traditional two-hander comedy: Viv Stanshall meets Morecambe and Wise with a dose of Pete and Dud, Monty Python and The League of Gentlemen. Yet with all the influences, these two make the comedy their own with audience participation (occasionally humiliation) creating sparkling repartee and several top-class jokes. Appearing in hand-made floppy costumes as post-nuclear wipeout cockroaches asking each other if they were the only ones left being my favourite. Splendid stuff. 5*
Price (Still) Includes Biscuits – Naomi Paul, Fri 30th June, The Sitting Room
Naomi Paul has no need to sweeten her audience. Biscuits were indeed still included but she’d won us over even as the lid of the tin was opened. Her wide-eyed slyly-innocent delivery masks a deeper humour embedded in mistrust of jargon, right-wing politics and training initiatives. Her wry descriptions of her neighbourhood in Birmingham meeting every cliched news report of immigration ‘issues’ was skilfully skewered as she gently reminded us if her own grandparents immigration to South Wales. A sprinkling of nicely observed Victoria Wood-style songs add to the charm of her multi-layered subtle little show. It’s a delight and it (still) includes a biscuit. 4*
Shell Shock – Smokescreen Productions. Ludlow Brewery, Sat 1st July. Actor Tom Page, Script Writer Tim Marriot, Tour Manager Harry Farmer.
The term Shell Shock was first coined by a physician in The Lancet describing the mental breakdown of soldiers returning from the Western Front in 1915. It’s more familiar use these days is as the phrase Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome but the manifestation of shell shock as veterans’ mental trauma hasn’t really changed in 100 years. Tim Marriott’s play adapted from the novel by Neil Blower takes us immediately into the heart and mind of a young ex-soldier, Tommy Atkins (the name itself a throwback to the lowliest private soldier of the First War) returning to civilian life from action in Afghanistan. We are not privy to Tommy’s specific experiences as a soldier but we are witnesses to his description of his day-to-day life as a seemingly happy-go-lucky civilian, pleased to be home and (at first) looking forward to his life; living at home with his mum, dad and girlfriend. But soon the cracks begin to appear: his father’s distancing, his mum’s drinking, his girlfriend’s disappointment with him and his own short fuse which makes him lash out at everything from smart phones to post office queues; to simple form-filling and robotic shopping in Ikea. Step-by-step rejection comes to him from the fire service, the police service, his first job and then his second attempt at holding down a job also coming to grief. And we see a slow–burning slow car crash of a life falling apart while the underlying theme is his sleepless nights, nightmares and memories of his real pals being killed around him and a general bewilderment at how pointless was the reason for him being out there and how difficult life back home actually is to live and deal with. His military training makes him tough but his psyche makes him vulnerable and we the audience feel helpless in the manic onslaught of this young man’s anger, mesmerisingly portrayed in a tour-de-force performance by Tom Page. The sheer physicality of his racing around the stage and its simple set, trying to reach some resolution to his anger and peace of mind is something to behold. The genuine shock we feel as he attempts his own suicide and then stops himself with the immensely powerful final line “What am I doing? I’m a British Soldier and we never run away from a fight” gives us some hope that he hasn’t taken that awful final step but leaves us also with as many unanswered (and possibly unanswerable) questions about his future. 5*
Our Overall Theatre Recommendations were…
Though not new fringe shows, we have seen all of these shows and recommended them strongly.
Pope Head: The Secret Life of Francis Bacon – was seen by our reviewer, Dan Lentell, at the Edinburgh Fringe. He said: “Performer Garry Roost is a superb character actor, one of the most inspired at the Fringe. His portraiture is not caricature, polemic or self-examination. He is removed without being absent. He is in there but as faithful squire to the proud knight he serves. Productions don’t get any Fringier than a one man play about a controversial modern artist, presented above a relatively non-descript pub in the far end of town. Neither do they get any better than Pope Head.”
We also saw Mr Merrick, The Elephant Man, at the Brighton Fringe where our reviewer, Paul Levy had this to say: “The core strengths of this new production from Lucky Dog are the central performance of Carpenter as Merrick, the courage to give us a shockingly direct encounter with Merrick and his time at the London Hospital and the engaging simplicity of the script which is economically written and rooted in Hutchinson’s usual top drawer research. It’s a unique bit of theatre at the Fringe, hidden away at the Werks Central Studio in an intimate and wonderfully silent space. Almost every minute of it focuses on the man. And that, ultimately is what Merrick was – not The Elephant Man, but a man.”
Also from the same company, Lucky Dog comes comes a new work, Bethnal Green that has to be a must-see, “the harrowing and factual account of the largest civilian disaster of World War II, The Bethnal Green Tube Disaster, into horrifying focus.”
We also enjoyed The Kagools at Brighton Fringe, which offers “unique brand of physical comedy and interactive film”,
I want to see … at Ludlow Fringe
Our quirky show-finding tool.
I want to see…
… some art. Then see Ludlow Fringe Art Trail
… two ultra-privileged British gents struggling to hold onto their whimsical world of cricket, tea and secret arms deals.. Then see The Establishment
… a show for children. Then see Pizza and Puppets (food included)
… some intense theatre. Then see Wood
… some storytelling, poetic verse and traditional folk songs. Then see Parable Arts presents
… something moving and real. Then see Shell Shock
… a show about what happens when you look up, engage and let the moment in. Then see Col Howarth
… two rising stars of the Welsh comedy scene. Then see Drew Taylor and Steffan Evan
… a free show. Then see My Family and Other Strangers (Donations)
… something for all the family. Then see Jem On The Green: Tales of Britain Live
… a local history talk. Then see Wagons to Wheelbiers: Reminiscenses of a Shropshire Lad
… a show for fans of puns. Then see Tony Cowards
… some satirical and quirky comedy. Then see Price (still) Includes Biscuits
… some Ella Fitzgerald. Then see Annette Gregory sings Ella Fitzgerald
… some comedy theatre. Then see Fête Worse Than Death
… a multi-character monologue gallery exploring gender, sexuality, and the human spirit. Then see The Pretty One
… some powerful historical theatre. Then see Mengele
… some solo stand-up comedy. Then see Harun with a View
All the headlines from Ludlow Fringe…
20th June 2017: How To Do The Ludlow Fringe With Kids… For Free (Hertfordshire Live)
20th June 2017: Art trail is mane attraction in Ludlow (Shropshire Star)
20th JUne 2017: Ludlow to get own Gay Pride event (Shropshire Star)
14th June 2017: Community ‘get together’ in Ludlow (Ludlow Advertiser)
14th June 2017: Ludlow Fringe Festival kicks off with street party for Jo (Shropshire Star)
13th June 2017): Paint Jam returns to Ludlow for Fringe Festival opening (Shropshire Star)
19th May 2017: Ludlow Fringe finally gets its own home (Ludlow Advertiser)
11th May 2017: 10 things to see (Hertfordshire Live)
11th April 2017: Ludlow Fringe (Hertfordshire Live)