Fringe Focus: Barnstaple Fringe TheatreFest

This is a unique Fringe, a human scale fringe, in a beautiful part of the country, and with a powerful reputation for variety, local, national and international.

Theatrefest runs from 27 – 30 June 2024.

“Now in its 18th year, Fringe TheatreFest is a four-day feast of comedy, drama, street-theatre, dance, music, magic and more. 180 performances of 60 different productions in Barnstaple, North Devon, at the end of June.”

You can visit the Theatrefest web site here.

Browse the programme here.

Join them on Facebook here.

Follow them on X (Once Twitter) here.

View them on Instagram here.

Find a venue here.

Our recommendations. With so miuch to see, here are a few of our recommendations.

I want to see at Barnstaple Fringe Theatrefest…

… some new writing. Then see A Party for my Uncle Brian. In their third production, this theatre piece “utilises comedy and drama to explore the loneliness epidemic and the subsequent cravings for attention, validation and companionship that are produced by a seemingly isolated world.”

… some magic. Then see Am I Predictable? Multi-award winner Chris Tennant combines his “passion and skill for psychological trickery, along with stand up humour to create a unique show that you will never forget.” Also check out The Secret Show.

… a Brighton Fringe 2023 theatre award-winner. Then see Georgie Steele’s And I’ll Blow Your House Down. The show is billed as “an exuberant and playful true-life storytelling show, a fairytale trip through the world of an unpaid carer and an invitation to help build a more equal and joyful society.”

… some abstract theatre and modern movement. Then see The Bakery is Closed Again. “From community areas to wild landscapes, spaces all around us are being stolen, lost, mishandled. Inspired by the attempted Wild Camping Ban on Dartmoor and the rising destruction of other community spaces, this episodic play explores the reaction to the loss of spaces through snapshots of various peoples’ lives. Combining stylised movement, original music and new writing, this abstract show dives into the meaning of spaces for the individual.”

… some spoken word storytelling. Then see The Love Stories Show. This shows is described by Mark Rutterford as ‘a two-hander with the audience,’ is an interactive storytelling event where you’ll experience love’s highs and lows, compete in The World Cup of Love Songs, laugh, decide story endings, and share romantic moments. Each unique show features audience highlights on, showcasing tales from first kisses at Stonehenge to mishap-laden proposals. It’s a whirlwind of stories and laughs about love for both romantics and cynics.

… some live radio comedy. Then see The Man With The Golden Bum – a vintage radio mayhem production. Up Close Theatre presents its 5th radio mayhem production at Theatrefest 2024. Following hits like The Big Dick Adventure and Downtrodden Abbey, we bring you The Man With The Golden Bum. This adult-humor show parodies the secret agent genre, featuring live sound effects and raucous proceedings. Early booking is advised. Based in Bideford, “we’ve produced 19 shows over 9 years. Join us if you’re not easily offended!”

… some theatre that mixes monologue and poetry. Then see Travellers. Travellers combines monologue and poetry to depict a man’s fragmented memories through his speeches, conversations, voice messages, letters, and poems. The piece explores the various roles we assume throughout life, illustrating how a character’s evolving voices shape the personas they present to others. It traces the loves, losses, and indifferences that define their life.

… something Shakespeare-ish. Then see Toby Belch is Unwell. “Toby Belch is unwell, the years of louche living, late nights and debauchery have taken their toll and now he faces his end with the knowledge that he is seen as a buffoon, a sot and a bully. He could have been Hamlet, he could have been Macbeth… Is this his epitaph? Returning after his sell out show in 2023, Sidney Keane brings us a louche, loud and largely drunk Toby Belch, whose years a fast catching up with him.”

… an  interactive physical theatre performance. Then see Tomatoes Don’t Fly – Gravity Shouldn’t Always Be Taken Seriously. Tomatoes Don’t Fly is a physical theatre show with clowning elements, exploring self-imposed limitations and personal growth. Ignacio, while preparing tomato soup, enters another dimension where he becomes both a children’s clown in crisis and an inspirational speaker. Through these personas, he learns lessons to help him take a significant step in his life. Created by Spanish artist Jose Parra and directed by Jamie Wood, this is Parra’s first solo show.

… some comedy spoken word. Then it has to be Rob Gee’s Verbal Tapas. Slam champ Gee’s show is “drawn largely from his experiences as a mental health nurse, Rob’s live set is a celebration of the chaos and adventure that lurks beneath the veneer of everyday life.”

… a North Devon-based theatre company. Then see Woman Caught Unaware. Benny&Kate is “a North Devon based theatre company that enjoys bringing contemporary, challenging and innovative theatre to small intimate venues and to rural communities.” A professor of art history faces a difficult decision when an unflattering naked photograph of her in a changing room is shared online. Annie Fox’s monologue delves into the portrayal of women in art and social media, capturing the emotions of a woman dealing with humiliation from trolls and her battle against body shamers.

… some drama from a new theatre company. Then see Fox and Sparrow from Restless Successors. This is one of two debut projects from a company founded by Writer and Dramaturg Natalia Riga and Composer and Sound Designer Peter Buffery. Here’s the premise: “Sparrow is about to interview for a position at the ministry. If successful, he’ll attend the Government Ball at the Feather Palace, where singing sensation Chirpy Canary will perform. He’s one step away from infiltrating this oppressive regime, hoping to make a change. Fox, a wanted rebel, and Sparrow’s most trusted ally, breaks in to visit him ahead of his final test. After three gruelling months apart, they have both changed. As each attempt to convince the other of their plan, they become more and more estranged. How can they find intimacy when all else is lost? How can they communicate emotion and authenticity in a world of violence and divisiveness? Endure or confront?”

… some song and spoken word from a local group. Then see Formidable Force. The trip promise “a musical performance of a whole variety of song genres and spoken word.” These are half an hour lunchtime Sunday shows and there is a twelve string guitar!

… some new theatre writing. Then see God, the devil and me. Hailing from Warminster, this one hour adventure is a a first time full piece by writer and director Fionn Donnelly. “Keep a hold of your hats for this comedic exploration of what it means to be a teenager and how perception is personal. Be prepared to laugh, to feel and to question everything you know.”

… some clown improv. Then see Escaping Event Horizons. Fringe regulars Autojeu Theatre decribe this as follows: “A journey through time and space, experiencing the beginnings and ends of it all. From the extinction of dinosaurs & the fall of Pompeii to the robotic uprising of the 38th century.The audience will be taken to the edge of time and back again, witnessing the ends of civilisations, worlds, planets and solar systems!”

… A triple bill of youth dance. Then see Triple Bill: Savage Freedom. “Working with themes of individuality, conformity, rules, speech and protest so far we have tied body parts together with hazard tape, practised crashing a plane, debated if giving spears to a bunch of 8 year-olds is a good idea, can you turn a hoody around using only one hand and partaking in many lively discussions about freedom of thought and deed. We are looking forward to seeing where this choreographic journey takes us.”

… some children’s theatre from a Theatrefest favourite. Then see The Lucky And Ducky Show. Definitely NOT soft toys, Lucky, Ducky, and their friends are gearing up for a show that’s utterly absurd and unsuitable for the whole family. Lucky aims for TV fame with his new song and ice cream collection, while Princess Ducky insists on driving. Speedy stays silent, Percy Hedgehog is just lovely, Mr. Pie is a bit mad and might eat you, Captain Barnarnar only says ‘banana,’ and Mr. Heff E Lumpp is completely clueless. Expect terrible songs, arguments, insults, and possibly poo. Special guest appearance by singer-songwriter Dean Friedman!” Also do’t miss their The Laurel & Hardy Radio Show which FringeReview highly reviewed a few years back at Brighton Fringe.

… solo theatre from a three-time Prague Fringe Award nominee. Then see outside, in the laneway, under the stars. It runs over two parts on different nights, billed as”an autobiographical mélange of theatrical monologue, storytelling, and spoken word. This is the tale of a gay, bullied smalltown Canadian kid from Queen Mary Public School who found refuge in theatre.”

… some stand-up comedy, acclaimed at Edfringe. Then see Karismaa’s Divorce Party, billed as a “joyride through what it means to be single after 10 years with Darren. Karismaa is the woman you meet in the toilets who has a spare tampon, a mantra, and unsolicited life advice. Tarot, karaoke and meltdowns.”

… physically comic storytelling theatre. Then see Autojeu Theatre’s classic King Arthur. For 8s and over, Autojeu “bring the Legend of King Arthur as you have never seen it before. A young boy navigates his destiny in uniting a divided Britannia with honesty, honour and integrity. Supported by his faithful knights and moral compass Merlin.”

… something esoteric and mysterious. Then see Jane puts her finger on it. We are promised a “new event hosted by Scottish psychic Jimmy Davidson and starring Jane Moss, Cheltenham’s answer to Old Mother Shipton… This breakthrough show marks a diversion from Dreamshed’s usual fare of cutting-edge new drama as we explore the mysteries of the human mind!”

… a family friendly puppet show.Then see The Fairy who wanted to Fly. Mary, too clumsy to fly like other fairies, excelled at charming worms and feeding songbirds. A mysterious stranger’s promise of wings in exchange for feathers led her into trouble with Mother Earth. Mary must find wisdom to guide herself into the stars. This gentle story, featuring marionettes, music, and puppets, is the first in the ‘Stories for Forever’ series, teaching children to solve dilemmas. Puppet Roadshow, based in Torridge, offers a work in progress with post-show puppet meet-and-greets and garden gifts for children.

… some comedy, physical theatre, dance, song and drum. Then see Native Wit from award-winning Imùlè Theatre. “…these performers blend decades of experience to combine drumming, dance, singing and clowning with physical theatre. Each proceeding scene is randomly drawn by an audience member from a market trader’s basket to create a theatre experience unique to every performance.”

… some solo scifi theatre. Then see The First Men in the Moon. “Written and performed by Mark Jardine, this adaptation of The First Men in the Moon is a comic and thrillingly dramatic ride through a Sci-Fi classic from the pen of HG Wells.”

… some solo autobiographical theatre. Then see Orphan Planet. Danny Laine offers “a heartfelt and poignant exploration of grief and healing, taking the audience through a cosmic journey from NASA in the 70s, 1990’s Plymouth and around the planets of the solar system. All to ask, Is it possible to reach beyond our own lifetimes?”

For fringe theatre lovers looking for new work, you might also want to check out Dot, the Faun and the Elfin Child, performance storytelling piece Dandelion Girl and Courtship (for lovers of Jane Austin.

And for some important spoken word, you might look at Does It Hurt When I press Here?.

That’s it for now. Check back for more recommendations before the end of the Fringe.