Sweet, sweet memories

This is not in any particular order. During my visits to the fringe, both as a volunteer and a visitor there are so many outstanding performances it is hard to single them out but I’ll endeavour to mention ones that really made me laugh out loud or cry or both 😉

Going back a few years, I remember a mini musical called Snakes on a Plane which was a lot of fun and cleverly put together which played to a packed audience in the Queen’s theatre. Apologies for not remembering the name of the company that performed it but there were just 5 of them I think playing a variety of roles with costume changes etc [just 3 actors in fact, which tells you how good they were]

That same year, in a very small venue upstairs, I watched the first step on the moon [I like the way you wear your hair] where the guy doing the story telling was creating a footprint whilst telling the story with video footage and eventually shinning a torch through the holes created in his footprint – making a very magical starry end to his performance (I went on to use this idea in several drama lessons and got kids to see what kinds of atmosphere they could create using a torch!

Finally a couple of years ago I watched a performance of Laurel and Hardy which was very entertaining, funny and extremely moving with brilliant performances by the two guys involved.

There have been so many others particularly good comedians and thought provoking performances and all of such outstanding quality.

I personally can’t wait until we are all able to visit the fringe again and especially thanks for all your hard work as I can only imagine the total dedication it must take to pull off something like this.

Sue R     

A video from Sam Gibbs

As I write this on a Thursday evening in late June, it is right about now that I’d be either finishing watching a show, or performing, and heading to the GLT to see friends not seen for a year and begin to seriously plan the rest of my Fringe viewing while enjoying a crisp pint to toast the first day of the Fringe.

Regarding reflections, it is never easy to capture how much of an impact I feel this festival has had on me, the pure undiluted fun and enjoyment it brings me – I can only hope I have been able to pass a fraction of that feeling onto others with my work. I have tried (in a very new capacity for me!) to frame some of my feelings and reflections on TheatreFest in this video.

A few weeks ago I found myself looking back over my photo’s from June, over the last 11 years, hoping I’d be able to compile some kind of TheatreFest album for a blog post or gallery entry. it is testament to the fact of how all encompassing and engrossing the fringe is that aside from a couple of photos of the Barnstaple bridge as I arrive in town, and the occasional picture of the tent as it is being dismantled at the end of the fringe (There is a small flurry of pictures as I hope to catch a glimpse of the Great Surmo one year but that’s another story…) I have very few photo’s of it in action. I really do find myself being fully absorbed in this wonderful fringe year on year, and I am forever thankful for the support from all those involved in making it happen, to the incredible audiences who come to watch, and so many friends, old and new, who welcome me back in as if I have never been away each year. 

Here’s to all you Theatrefest-ers, the most #TheatricallyHench of them all, wherever in the world this finds you one thing is for sure, I cannot wait to share Theatrefest 2021 with you all! 
Sam Gibbs
Autojeu Theatre

Smidge is back with a message!

Lucy and Smidge featured in Mark Ashmore’s wonderful Story Quest – a graphics-led adventure through Barnstaple and it’s history as part of the 2015 Fringe TheatreFest experience.

The characters were based on a piece created by Out Theatre Theatre in 2014, directed by Hayley Joy and performed by Jess Pearson, Phil Murphy and Tom Bosworth. Smidge was the eponymous invisible friend.

Now Smidge is back with a message for 2020:

A word from Robert Garnham

I’ve got far too many good Barnstaple TheatreFest memories to pick any one event. Barnstaple was my first ever experience of appearing at a fringe event and as a result, I have measured every other fringe against the example set. 

It’s scary to think how many shows I have brought to Barnstaple over the years, or been a part of. Two different Spectacular Vernaculars, Ping Pong Poetry, Juicy, The Two Robbies, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, Spout . . . And I would have been back this year, too.

But one thing that has always struck me about the fringe, (and this is my overriding memory of it), is the camaraderie between the performers. Over one long weekend we all become colleagues and friends, we watch each other’s shows, we help out with leaflets and publicity, we keep bumping into each other around the town and chat about how things are going, we go for drinks and meals. These friendships survive and flourish. And everyone is so enthusiastic about their art and the event as a whole. This is what struck me on my first trip, and it’s an ethos which survives and, indeed, has expanded over the years.

I’m looking forward to coming back, once the world is a little safer, and becoming a part of the community once again.


Special memories from Zoë Buffery

Three special memories off the top of my head:

1. A show that took place in Frances Bell’s kitchen – was it Small Space?? about a couple and their life together and one has a terminal illness. It was a wonderful as a show, but also I think it was the first “alt space” show in theatrefest “venue X”

2. After festival drinks in the Queen’s Theatre bar when everyone congregates – was the year Phoebe was doing the vox box with her young producers, (where you had to put a makeshift photobooth/box on your head and record yourself talking about a show/festival).

Mark Ashmore was having a go, and the Queen’s bar staff needed to pack up, clear us out etc. So we all sneaked out leaving Mark talking to himself in an empty bar. Was quite a funny little event, with actors, volunteers, techies, Queen’s staff etc all having a laugh together (at Mark’s expense!) There’ll def be a video of this from Mark’s perspective somewhere [see below!]  – possibly someone might have one from the rest of the rabble.


3. Margaret Nathanson showing up with bags full of M&S goodies to keep the volunteers fuelled and happy 😊

Margaret – mother and grandmother and provider of M&S goodies


This picture came up on my Facebook feed this morning from 4 years ago:

This is a flyer for Bryony’s show Lyrically Minded in 2016.

Bryony is a phenomenon. As her flyer says, she’s hard to contain!

Bryony stumbled across the very first Fringe TheatreFest in 2007 and dragged the rest of her family along to share her excitement.

In year two she volunteered for box office and stewarding duties.

In year three she set up MishMish Productions and produced her first show, Spectacular Vernacular, a platform both for her own experiments in performance poetry and for other spoken word artists.

Spectacular Vernacular reappeared over the years in a further four iterations, Bryony getting more and more confident with her own poetic voice while continuing to host and champion other local and regional talents.

But Bryony is restless. She has also become an integral part of Monday Collective as well as broadening the scope of her work with MishMash Productions, exploring performance in all sorts of different site-specific circumstances – often taking on formidable logistic challenges.

Bryon continues to provide stewarding and box-office support when she’s not on stage. She is a great example of the symbiotic relationship between an organisation that can provide a nurturing environment for an individual’s talents and an individual who gives back and nurtures the organisation.

posted by Bill

An ode to Fringe

Chris Brown, volunteer, reviewer and avid audience member, has written a couple of poems from a personal perspective that she hopes others can relate to. We’ll be posting the second poem as we wrap things up on Sunday.

Fringe TheatreFest
Behind the Scenes

14 years and still going strong
Each one (nearly!) Bigger and better
The word is spreading vocally,
Via media and newsletter

Gill and bill’s commitment never wanes
And their enthusiasm is catching
Despite the postmortem moans and groans
Improvement plans ever hatching,

The army of willing volunteers
Never fail to “step up to the plate”
With opportunities for everyone
To be part of something great

The volunteer roles ever-changing
“box office” continues to baffle
(it must be something about my age?)
But I can organise the raffle!

Whatever your skills, age and gender
There will always be a role
So if you haven’t already joined our clan
Make fringe theatrefest your goal

Is all the effort worth it?
I ask again and again
“of course it is” comes the reply
Yes! Yes! Yes! Echoes the refrain

So despite the glitch in 2020
We will be back next year for sure
Make fringetheatrefest your “must do” thing
Well who could ask for more!

Chris Brown June 2020

The Fringe TheatreFest volunteers

If you’ve listened to Helen Bovey’s podcast, you’ll understand how crucial the volunteer force is in creating the generous personality of Fringe TheatreFest.

If you haven’t heard the podcast, here it is: https://shows.acast.com/fringe-theatrefest/episodes/episode-2-helen-bovey

Margaret Nathanson recollects:

“Fear and trembling in the first year of the festival getting all the ticket  sales money wrong at the Baptist Church venue and dear Phoebe calming me down and putting things right. I never did ticket sales again!! 

“My best effort was to supply biscuits from M&S I loved every minute of the festival.and looked forward to my Devon adventure each year as It went from strength to strength.  I made some great friends there and it was great fun to meet up again each year.”

Margaret surrounded by the youngsters!

Lucky Dog – impressions of Barnstaple


Philip here from Lucky Dog Theatre Productions.

We have played four times at TheatreFest, and this was due to be our fifth. It’s so ironic, as there is a first-out-of-the-hat procedure with picking the acts. In years gone by, we’ve been near the bottom of the list or even not on the list at all (three times we didn’t get picked; one of those years someone cancelled, another an extra venue was found, and the last we didn’t get on the bill at all). So, what happens this year? First act to apply – and coincidentally first out of the hat! Thankfully Bill and Gill, being the awesome people they are, are honouring that for 2021 so we’ll be coming back with yet another show.

Up until now we’ve played MR MERRICK, THE ELEPHANT MAN at St Anne’s (2015), HATS OFF TO LAUREL AND HARDY at Tent On The Square (2017), JACK THE RIPPER: FACTS, NO FICTION at The Guildhall (2018) and THE LAUREL AND HARDY CABARET at The Baptist Hall (2019). 

We’ve been asked to share our memories from TheatreFest thus far. Well, I have to start with the weird one from 2015 when we were waiting to do our get in for one of the performances of MR MERRICK at St Anne’s and were sitting, in costume, on the wall by the path. Some guy of dubious parentage came past and muttered some abuse at us and, because I looked at him, he came back and took a swing at me. I just leaned back, so no harm done. Great introduction, though!

We went to a local pub that evening that has karaoke and had a great time. My party piece is doing WUTHERING HEIGHTS – in the same key as Kate Bush. It always stops people in their tracks but I could not have expected that – genuinely – each year we go in there during TheatreFest they know exactly who we are and I get dragged up to do it again!

We loved the space in St Anne’s. So old and unusual and intimate. In 2017 we were playing in the huge tent on The Square. Downsides were that projections (of which we use a lot) were difficult to see, and there was always noise from outside. During one show there were some teenagers on their bikes who were very loud and one of the volunteers asked them to keep the volume down; they were polite and apologetic and did just that. Not something you’d find in many towns! We went out and thanked them afterwards. Upsides were that you had a lot of passing custom, it was always comfortable in there as the breeze would pass through and there was MASSES of storage space! We don’t travel very lightly; even when I think I’ve limited the set design, Tony’s car is still bursting through the roof. Being able to just pick up everything and throw it in a corner rather than dismantle it after every show is a real pleasure I am sure most touring acts can identify with. 

The following year, Tony couldn’t get the time off work so I travelled on the train to do my one-man show about Jack the Ripper; it’s all factual as I am an historian and author on the subject and often get pulled out as a rent-a-gob on TV shows. The Guildhall was a marvellous space. It’s atmospheric, old-fashioned and formal. I was surprised how much fun I had by myself that week. Seeing the Irish band CUA playing in the space before my show was one of the highlights. I loved their music and bought both CDs after the show. That’s one of the many great things about TheatreFest – you can get to see loads of shows really cheaply and are able to chance things you might not usually go to.

This is also where I got to meet up with one of my best friends from Sixth Form, whom I hadn’t seen for thirty years – he now lives in Barnstaple. He still hasn’t come to see one of my shows, though!

Another highlight, for me, was the comedy session at The Golden Lion Tap at the end of the first night. I’ve never done stand-up before, but I did a small part of my Ripper show in the style of one and I felt on top of the world. If it didn’t go down really well, everyone was universally polite! Being by myself in 2018 meant that I found myself interacting with the other performers a lot more. It was a lovely atmosphere. There’s video of my weekend here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjhT8qqCLAY 

Last year was a very good one for us. We chose well by picking The Baptist Hall as our venue. We were pretty much full for all three shows, with adults sitting on the chairs and the kids in rows on benches or on the floor at the front. THE LAUREL AND HARDY CABARET went down very well and we got sent some superb photographs afterwards by a gentleman who came to see it. We also saw two amazing shows by other acts at our venue last year, being KOTUKU AND THE MOON CHILD (an absolutely charming puppetry piece) and NATHAN AND IDA’S HOT DOG STAND, a sweet piece of nostalgia that seems to be loved by everyone.

photo by Paul Treweeke

Last year, more than ever, we felt like a fixture at TheatreFest and – as it’s genuinely our favourite of ALL the festivals we play – we were quite happy to be. There’s film from 2019 here: https://youtu.be/4t_Vh5arGwY So, that’s it. Next year – if we’re all still here! – it’s going to be our comedy family version of that 1950’s classic THE RED BALLOON. See you then.


PHILIP HUTCHINSON Lucky Dog Theatre Productions

Helen Bovey podcast

Another fabulous interview. This time Liam Gifford is in conversation with Helen Bovey.

Above Bounds in Travellers’ Tales. Photo of by Dave Green, who has provided us with so many striking images over the years.

Helen first brought her company, Above Bounds Theatre Collective, to Fringe TheatreFest in 2016.

She has really important things to say about where Fringe TheatreFest fits into the scheme of things regionally and nationally. And what it is that makes Fringe TheatreFest and Barnstaple so special.

Oh, and there’s a lovely shout out for Barnstaple’s cafes!

Join the discussion.

If it’s Wednesday it’s tent-day

For the last three years a large tent has been one of the TheatreFest venues – first on The Square by the Museum, last year on The Strand in front of Queen Anne’s Cafe.

The tent is a beast and it takes some serious effort to get it ready. The tent belongs to The Common Players. Anthony and Woody co-ordinate a team of stalwart TheatreFest volunteers. You can see the scale of the challenge on the time lapse video.

It’s well worth the effort and it has hosted some great shows.

Making a splash

By now, in a normal year, the North Devon Gazette will have done us proud with a great display both on-line and in the printed edition of what treats are in store for North Devon. Here’s an example from 2019.

The Voice local radio station has always been very supportive. For the last couple of years Hopps and Chapple have encouraged TheatreFest companies to drop in to the studio during their morning show in the week of Fringe. Two years ago today they were visited by three theatre-techs from Limerick who had just made the long journey to be here as part of the backstage team. Hopps and Chapple were delighted that people were travelling so far to enjoy what Barnstaple has to offer. Last year they were talking to a couple of performers from New Zealand.

The North Devon Journal has undergone some fairly radical changes over the last few years and space is more limited than it used to be. However, they make a very special effort to continue their historic support for the festival.

Shops and businesses in the Town Centre – including Green Lanes Shopping Centre – are generous with giving over space for posters.

Sam Gibbs podcast

The Fringe TheatreFest podcast, created by Liam Gifford, is up and running.

The first interview is with Sam Gibbs of Autojeu Theatre.

Sam has been part of Fringe TheatreFest since 2009 when he and Liam performed together as part of Openbatch Theatre that sprang out of Dartington College.

Sam and Liam together give us a great overview of what Fringe TheatreFest is.

Let us know what particularly strikes you from the conversation.

If it’s Tuesday it must be staging…

It has become something of a ritual on the Tuesday of Fringe week to pick up a flatbed truck, kindly loaned by St John’s Garden Centre, and start collecting the staging and chairs needed to equip the venues.

For many years, Park School lent Fringe their staging that was paid for by a grant that came with Robert Barber’s Outstanding Teacher Award in 2003. As school finished we’d be there with the flatbed and whoever else was available to help haul out the frames and the decking. And then drive them to the Baptist Hall where other members of the team would be already delivering the custom-made scaffolding framework and drapes to provide a black-box stage area.

The Park School staging is no longer available, so over the past few years Forches School and Swimbridge Jubilee Hall have leapt into the breach.

The photo shows us trying to remember the most efficient way of constructing the staging. Where’s that photo from last year?

posted by Bill

A Facebook memory

This pic popped up in my Facebook memories from exactly two years ago. The volunteer co-ordinator on his way to Barnstaple having been picked up by his big sister at Tiverton.

So by Monday normally the briefing sessions for the volunteer force would have happened over the weekend. The box-office would be open. Posters all around the town. Road signage on the outskirts of town. And equipment beginning to be gathered, ready to start kitting out the venues.

posted by Bill

Fringe TheatreFest 2020 – in lockdown

Something rather different…

We’re taking the forced opportunity to reflect on the wonderful adventure we’ve been on over the last 14 years. From 16 performances over three days in one venue in 2007 to a planned 220 performances over four days in 22 venues in 2020.

Starting on Wednesday 24th June – the day when the first ‘Taster Session’ would have happened – we will share posts of all sorts – blogs, comments, photos, graphics, videos, podcasts – to mark the period of this year’s planned TheatreFest, finishing on Sunday 28th.

Please join in as you wish. Enjoy the posts and comment if you feel so moved. If you wish to send photos, videos or whatever, email us at info@theatrefest.co.uk