Fringe festivals are awesome. Fact.
Whether we’re talking the huge, colourful craziness of the Edinburgh Fringe, or some of the smaller, homegrown fringes which take place in towns and cities all over the UK, it’s just brilliant to have so much variety and fun in one place.
There’s something amazing about picking through a programme, working out who to see, going into a venue you’d never normally go to, watching something odd, heart-warming or hilarious, and then grabbing a pint, wandering to the next venue, and doing it all over again.
The Reading Fringe Festival launched in 2013 and has been growing ever since. It really is one of the best Reading arts events of the year, and it returns this year from 20-24th July.
The programme was revealed at the Fringe launch party last month and there are some really exciting acts on the bill. I’m currently figuring out my plan of action to see how much I can squeeze in, so I figured it was a good time to share my top 10 recommendations of the shows I can’t wait to check out.
1. I Hope You Are Happy by Quite Nice Theatre. Thursday and Saturday. Watlington House.
When I saw Quite Nice Theatre on the programme I may have done a little excited squeal. Their 2013 show Snakes! The Musical was a huge hit at Edinburgh and London, and was laugh-out-loud brilliant. They followed it with At the Edge of the World, which was as heart-wrenching as Snakes! was hilarious. Now they’re back with new show, I Hope You Are Happy. The show follows Thom, who presented a mega-musical to producers a few years ago in an attempt to raise £50 million. It didn’t work, so now he’s trying one last time.
2. Mad Monkey Improv. Saturday. Watlington House.
If you’ve never been to a Fringe Festival before, Mad Monkey Improv are the ones to start with. Their shows are hilarious, ridiculous and thoroughly entertaining, and there’s no way you won’t be laughing by the end. As the name suggests, it’s all about improv, and the group perform a series of ingenious skits based on audience suggestion. Anything can happen, and that’s why it’s so brilliant.
3. A Teachers Guide to Surviving Zombie Armageddon by The Zombie Teacher. Wednesday and Sunday. The Purple Turtle.
If there’s one group of people who are passionate about what they do, it’s teachers. And with education being such a hot topic in today’s current affairs, this looks like it’s going to be a good show, both for teachers and non-teachers alike. When events take an unexpected turn at her school, a teacher is forced to face a big question – which is worse, Ofsted or a zombie invasion? If you’re a teacher, I think this will be a must see.
4. Film Festival by Workbench Productions. Wednesday. RYND.
Last year I helped judge the Reading Fringe Festival Film Festival and was totally blown away by the quality of the submissions. Entrants are challenged to write, film and edit a short film in 48 hours, and then the finished films are showcased during the Film Festival night. It’s a really great format, as you see lots of little films, so if you don’t like something, the chances are you’ll be presented with something totally different straight afterwards. The variety of ideas and genres is really wide too – a film about gnomes last year was one of my favourites!
5. The Frogs by Attila Theatre. Saturday and Sunday. Penta Hotel.
Attila Theatre was formed by a group of graduates from Reading University a few years ago, and they performed one of their earliest works, Shoot. Get Treasure. Repeat. at the inaugural Reading Fringe Festival. It was edgy and in your face, perhaps a little too in your face, but it showed a lot of potential. It will be interesting to see how the company has grown in the three years since that first Fringe performance. The Frogs is inspired by Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy, The Frogs, and sees the cast travel to the Underworld to bring back a recently deceased celebrity.
6. Momologues 3: The Final Push by Forthwrite Theatre. Thursday and Saturday. Watlington House.
Forthwrite Theatre won the Pick of the Fringe award in 2014, and have become Reading Fringe Festival stalwarts, with some really interesting and meaningful drama. MOMologues 3: The Final Push, is a brand new show, and it looks as if Forthwrite is flexing its comedy muscles with a funny and candid look at motherhood through the teenage years. Mums, Dads, and the terrible teens will probably all find something familiar and fun in this.
7. Ma Bessie & the Pig Foot Band. Thursday. Shehnai.
As well as all the brilliant theatre and comedy, the Reading Fringe also offers a number of musical acts and Ma Bessie & the Pig Foot Band are the kind of act you’d want to listen to on a warm summers’ evening, G&T in hand, unwinding after a busy day at work. They’ve got a bluesy, retro vibe, and Ma Bessie (aka Bessie Smith) has an awesome voice.
8. 6 Ways to Break a Bird by Becci Louise. Friday and Sunday. Progress Theatre and Milk Bar.
One of the joys of a Fringe Festival is going out of your comfort zone and watching a performance you’d never normally book a ticket for. Spoken word is a bit underappreciated, or at least not as widespread as it could be, so it’s great to see some on the bill in Reading. 6 Ways to Break a Bird is described as ‘a poet and a parrot making sense of their fears’. It’s the story of a feminist with body issues and anxiety, learning to live with a parrot. Sounds intriguing.
9. The Alternative Queen of Reading. Sunday. Penta Hotel.
Sassy, bold, fun, vibrant and glittering – just some of the words you can use to describe the Alternative Queen of Reading. I wrote about the event over here, as the organisers are currently looking for contestants to strut their stuff on the stage. The Alternative Queen is a celebration of Reading’s women, presented in a cabaret style evening, where each potential Queen demonstrates why she should be crowned the winner. It’s a really fun night and a great one to go along to with the girls.
10. Wanna Dance with Somebody by Running Dog Theatre. Thursday. Penta Hotel.
It’s not just the Whitney Houston song that made me pick this, honest. The show mixes storytelling, live music and physical comedy to tell the story of Josh, who is good at dancing but not good at people. Wanna Dance with Somebody is an exploration of social anxiety and coping mechanisms, performed by Exeter based company, Running Dog Theatre.
Take a chance show: Xnthony and the Penny Slots. Friday and Sunday. Penta Hotel.
There’s always one show at the fringe which you’re kind of intrigued by, because it could be totally amazing, or it could be, um, not amazing. Xnthony and the Penny Slots is my ‘take a chance’ show. Xnthony and the Penny Slots have got their sights set on Eurovision and, determined to make it all the way, they’re embarking on a UK tour to help spread the word. With a show based on a Eurovision dream it could go any way.
For the full Reading Fringe Festival programme with loads more shows, and information on how to book, visit www.readingfringefestival.co.uk