Four Years – Four Fabulous Festivals

I was privileged to have been part of four TheatreFests between 2012 and 2015. 

The first two as the Director of the Entertainingly Different Youth Theatre; performing Snarks by Phillip Bailey in 2012  and then in 2013 a devised piece entitled All for the Want of a Charter; Barum’s Secrets and Lies. This was such an amazing opportunity and experience for the young people involved and a great way to help establish ourselves as a newly formed group. 

In the following two years Dexter Newman and myself performed our popular family shows Traditonal Tales with a Twist to much acclaim. All four shows were performed in the fabulously intimate venue that is the Baptist Hall in Boutport Street under the excellent stage management of Jo Hotchkiss and her brilliant sound and lighting techies. We were always made to feel so welcome and our needs well accommodated – by the third year it felt like we were coming home. Bill and Gill are such inspirational, enthusiastic and passionate people and it is this positivity and drive that echoes throughout the whole festival, Barnstaple is such a lucky town. 

Highlights for me include drumming up interest and flyering on the streets, doing the taster sessions in the Barnstaple Coffee Shop, receiving some amazing coverage from the North Devon Journal and The Gazette and  watching some performances/supporting other local and national companies and waiting anxiously to read a review!

Thank you Bill and Gill – here’s to 2021 and the future of the TheatreFest for many years to come – who knows I may even be tempted to apply again myself! 

Rob Pudner, Director and Lead Practitioner

Entertainingly Different

Fringe Memory – 1000 words and MSND

I’ve been to every single TheatreFest and there are a lot of memories.

White Hippos, the company I’m lucky to be a part of has performed at every TheatreFest except one; I have personally performed at ten of them, I managed a venue in 2019, I’ve helped create 12 original pieces of theatre to be performed at the festival and one comic book based treasure hunt.

I love the Fringe TheatreFest. 

While I’m proud of all the work I have been a part of over the years, what remains the most important to me are the people I’ve met and shared so many wonderful June weekends with. Whether it’s the volunteers and support staff who show up every year, the audience members who remember you and want to encourage what you do next, or the hundreds of fellow performers who have become a part of the TheatreFest family. The vast majority of them have made a lasting impact on me through their enthusiasm and kindness.

However I’m not here to talk about any of that, instead I’d like to talk about the two performances that changed how I think about art.

In 2013 ‘The Monday Collective’ performed an original piece called 1000 Words. As a member of the audience you sat in a venue and watched the show take place on the street outside. The original idea was by a wonderful theatre maker called Liam Gifford and the performance was brought to life by the smörgåsbord of extremely talented individuals that have made up the Monday Collective over the years. The piece blended performance and the real world, a live narration described the action of the performers but also described and contemplated what members of the public were doing and pointed out aspects of the local environment that could be seen from where the audience were sitting. Members of the audience were also occasionally given the microphone so that they could point out what they had observed and the whole thing mixed together to create a dreamy 45mins of storytelling.

We were sitting in a cafe on the bank of the River Taw, there was a large window in front of us where the action was taking place, and behind us another window through which we could see the high flowing waters of the river moving out into the estuary. The building we were sitting in, now a cafe, had in my youth been the main bus station in Barnstaple and before that it had been the railway station for a long extinct railway line that spanned North Devon.

As I sat in my seat I noticed that the columns which held up the portico on the front of the venue were reflected through the glass on the window, onto another smaller pane of glass at the side, no doubt a trick of the light at that time of day, but it gave the impression that the columns were both outside the window and inside the venue as well. I thought about how well this fit with the performance and longed for them to pass me the microphone so I could point it out to everyone.

The narrator, another incredible artist called Jessica Pearson, had at that moment been describing the interplay of action between a couple of the performers and a young family that had unknowingly stumbled into the performance area, when suddenly she turned around, looked out the window behind us and asked.

“I wonder where they got those kayaks from?”

I turned around and saw two people in kayaks casually paddling down the river.

For a second.

Just for a second, I wondered how they had managed to do it, in that tiny moment of time I concocted in my head an idea of how they had managed to pull off such an audacious piece of choreography. My theory involved another performer at the festival whose father ran a shop specialising in outdoor sports equipment, my theory didn’t go any further than that as I suddenly realised, for the first time in all my years of watching theatre, they had made me believe that the fantasy was real.

It wasn’t a trick, they hadn’t tricked me into thinking it, I had given willingly to the idea that the barrier between audience and performer so often described as a wall, was actually just a window. One that reflected me outwards just as much as the performance was projected in and in that moment, not only had they twisted everything I had ever experienced in theatre before, but they had given me the one thing I had always wanted. I had always wanted it to be real.

Throughout my secondary school drama education we had studied the work of Bertold Brecht, over and over again we looked at his techniques to distance the performer from the performance and the performance from the audience. We learned how actors would kick their props into the audience, to show them that what they were watching wasn’t real. I had always struggled with or railed against these techniques, because I had always wondered why they felt the need to remind the audience that what they were watching wasn’t real. Yet here I was, in a seat; in a cafe, having bought a ticket to watch what I was watching, wondering if it was real. It was marvellous, and just as I was grappling with this notion, my head dizzy with the idea, a man jumped into a bin.

Someone in the audience cried “OH MY GOD HE’S JUMPING IN THE BIN!” and she was right, far in the distance, right at the back of the visible performance area, a man had exited the back door of what I’m guessing must have been a restaurant, threw a load of cardboard into a large metal bin, and then, unhappy with the way his recycling was sitting on top of a pile of other cardboard boxes and suchlike. He climbed into the bin and began jumping on it, completely unaware that approximately 50 metres away, a paying audience were sitting and watching his every move.

It was hysterical, the audience burst into laughter unlike any I’ve ever heard and as you can probably tell, I have never been able to forget it.

At the previous year’s festival, but less than 365 days earlier, The Wolf and Water Theatre Company performed an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Surely it is remarkable that the two most profound artistic experiences of my life have both been at the TheatreFest, but for them both to have been within a  year of each other truly boggles the mind.

I have seen and worked on performances of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ many times, I think it is probably my favourite piece by Shakespeare, but many productions of it seem to suffer from what I have dubbed ‘The Faerie Conundrum’. Several years ago I wrote a short sketch about the problem, a one joke affair in which a theatre group spend so much time arguing over how they should depict the faeries, that they never get around to rehearsing the play.

I’ve seen the play set in the 1920’s with the faeries in flapper dresses; I’ve seen it set in the 1960’s with them depicted as hippies and in the 1970’s with whatever hippies from the 1960’s turned into. Sometimes they are played by children, sometimes gymnasts or dancers. I saw one performance by the RSC, who I’m certain were as irritated by the conundrum as I was, and I couldn’t tell you what they were supposed to be. In short, I’ve seen the play a lot, the good, the bad and the baffling, and I wasn’t sure the play had anything left to surprise me with.

My wife Gemma attended the festival with me that year, trying to work out what to watch. She suggested we go and see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. I ruled it out instantly, no. 

As is often the way though, things changed, we saw shows in a different order than we had planned and suddenly the opportunity to see it was back on the table. ‘Fine’ I said, ‘what are they doing with the faeries this time?’

The answer was the First World War, I rolled my eyes, I hadn’t seen it set in that particular time period before, so I grit my teeth and bought two tickets.    

I then watched the most incredible performance I’d ever seen, not just of this particular play, but of any play. The story I knew so well unfolded in ways I had never imagined, within just a few minutes, every other performance of the play seemed entirely without merit.

The young lovers drawn into the woods by a mixture of hormones, meddling parents and faerie magic now did so with real urgency, they weren’t just in the woods looking for love, they were hoping that love would save them from a World that was on fire.

Oberon, Puck and Titania waged their own war, one that seemed more pointless and cruel as they literally moved the other characters around the stage to carry out their bidding, constantly putting others at risk as they stayed safe behind the hidden barriers of their magical realm.

Helena and Hermia, who are so often the wet blankets of the piece and swept off stage so that Demetrius and Lysander can get all the laughs, instead strode the stage with so much confidence, energy and understanding of their predicament that they were able to steal the scenes back from the rambunctious behaviour of the boys. 

And then there was Bottom. Bottom, who in this performance was entirely mute and led around the stage like… well, a donkey. If you had told me that it was possible to have a production of the play where Bottom didn’t say anything, I would have thought it impossible, but there it was, and it was fantastic. All of the events of the play, all of the jokes, they were all still there, but they were all performed in such a remarkable yet appropriate fashion by a speechless Bottom, that on the two occasions I have had to watch the play since, I’ve been desperate for the character to shut the hell up!

I sat there on a sunny Saturday afternoon trying to take it all in, trying to hold onto every moment of the play. The wonderful performances and direction, the technical elements complete with projected footage of the war, all of it consistently upended my expectations and delighting me, and as Bottom and his fellow craftsmen finished their play and I thought there were no more surprises to be had, all of the human cast were lined up on stage, and shot.

Two couples who had done so much to prove their love for each other and had found themselves so happy were killed, a group of craftsmen who only wanted to put on a play and entertain people were killed, and why? Because of a war, because in a World dealing with an ongoing trauma, young love and entertainment was deemed unnecessary.

The young woman playing Puck appeared at the front of the stage to give her closing monologue, it was a perfect rendition of Shakespeare’s words, but the monologue now took on a very different tone, a mournful tone. It was a closing to the play that suggested grief was in fact only love attempting to deal with its oldest adversary, and that although it may ultimately fail, trying to love the way you want to be loved, will always be worth the effort.

Before the lights faded I was in tears, I turned to my wife and she was in tears, the people who were sitting in front of us were crying and as the house lights came on, it became clear that everyone in the audience had been affected in the same way.

A few years ago I managed to meet Peter Harris who had co-directed the show with Helen Venn and I think I managed to tell him how much the show had meant to me. He passed away recently and even though I didn’t know him, I still feel the loss.

When I think about the World we’re currently living in, the uncertainties that we all face and what TheatreFest will look like in the future, I think about Wolf and Water’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and it makes me happy. We will need art more than ever; to make sense of the World, to question the things that happen to us and most likely as a welcome distraction, but if we can attempt to follow in the footsteps of Wolf and Water, then the shows we make, just like the festival we create them for, will be surprising, inspiring and worthy of our love.  

Mark Ashmore

White Hippos Productions

Above and beyond

Helen Bovey from Above Bounds Theatre Collective shares a couple of short videos from two of the their three visits to Fringe TheatreFest.

The first show they brought to Barnstaple was Travellers’ Tales in 2016. Then The Enormous Turnip in the Library and Boston Tea Party in 2018. And Two Little Kittens in the Queen’s Theatre in 2019.

Listen to Helen in a thoroughly illuminating conversation with Liam Gifford on the podcast that he has created for this Fringe TheatreFest moment:

The Great Surmo – master of disguise

My favourite from last year. The girls couldn’t take their eyes off him.

Sue Wearne

This is the Great Surmo in one of his many guises.

Below is a selection of other manifestations. The Great Surmo was one of the eight companies in the first Fringe TheatreFest in 2007. In fact his was the very first show of the very first day of the very first Fringe TheatreFest.

An inspiration

On a hot sticky Thursday night in June 2010, in the upstairs room at the Golden Lion Tap, I was po-going to an XTC track to introduce The Smoking Show. This was my first performance at Barnstaple TheatreFest, my first performance of the show and a very nervous sweaty experience. I needn’t have been nervous but I was certainly going to be sweaty for the rest of the baking hot three days that June. The welcome from everyone at TheatreFest has always made performing a very comfortable experience.

I realised with this show one of the secrets of TheatreFest was the audience when a great old chap at the bar (I later found out his name was “Cider Paul”) offered me a joke to include in the show (I can’t remember if I put it in or not). He was an indication of the kind of audiences that were at the festival.

On the Friday, sitting in the fish and shop across from the Queen’s Theatre, I overheard a teenager in the next booth explaining something to his mum on the phone. “Nah mum, I’m going to see some theatre! I’ll be back once I’ve seen it! It’s only four quid and lasts for an hour.” And he put on his baseball cap and left. What he was going to see I don’t know but he summed up the attitude of the festival.

Barnstaple is a celebration of theatre in all its forms. Being not curated means there is something for everyone and there’s not the “this is theatre because we tell you it is” attitude which some other festivals have. I still talk about shows I’ve seen at the festival, amongst them the Japanese clown, mime, one-man performance of Richard the Third; White Hippos explaining the banking crisis with a bag of Revels; Autojeu with their rather bizarre mime of a photocopier in How To Climb Mount Everest; the simplicity of the storytelling in The Only Punk Rocker In The Village; the curious walking tour Together with a headset filled with unusual thoughts and an actress guide and the claustrophobic seven minute long performance For Jimmy.

Barnstaple TheatreFest is an inspiration and it’s for this reason that I took the model and used it to set up the Stroud Theatre Festival, eight years ago. Every time I go to Barnstaple I see another new idea which we could or will use for our festival and steal it – “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

With my company Spaniel in the Works I’ve been to Barnstaple 7 times over the last 10 years performing everything from family comedies to serious dramas and always found the festival to be welcoming from the volunteer front of house staff to the wonderful technicians to other performers to the very kind people who put up with a host of odd performers staying in their homes.

I’ve also made good friends – not just with other performers – but with technicians, front of house and of course Bill and Gill whose inspiration and drive carries TheatreFest forward and in new directions. It’s very sad that we won’t be performing this year and I hope that after things resettle we will be able to experience TheatreFest again under whatever the “new normal” is.

John Bassett

Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company

A tasty Fringe!

I savour every moment and every audience member who came to my one man show AUTOLYCUS! last year, 2019.

My show was young then and is still being tested and expanded and as I write this I have dates for 2021 when please dear god this plague will be over.

Thank you Barnstable FringeFest 19 for allowing me the space upstairs in the fabulous Southgate venue – they were wonderful hosts!!

As were you!

Derekk Ross

The creative space to dance my heart out

From volunteering at the first few fringe festivals to developing Out There Theatre company in 2008 to becoming part of The Monday Collective; Barnstaple Fringe TheatreFest has been and always will be very close to my heart.

Having the creative space to dance my heart out as part of a piece I was solely responsible for at age 17 was one of the most wonderful feelings I will remember and keep in my heart forever. The audiences were small but perfectly formed and encouraged me to keep creating and experimenting. So I did. 

Meanwhile, over the next few TheatreFests, I watched, supported and consumed as much theatre as a little country girl with limited (at the time) access to theatre possibly could. I have enjoyed so much bizarre, wonderful, thought-provoking, belief-challenging, awe-inspiring pieces of theatre now thanks to the Barnstaple Fringe TheatreFest.

Over the years, with Out There Theatre and The Monday Collective, I have created dance pieces, physical theatre pieces and facilitated experimental pieces. All of these were well supported by the awesome community that surrounds Fringe TheatreFest which allowed me to be bravely creative and push boundaries of what theatre is and what it means to people.

One of my favourite pieces Out There Theatre developed was Check In (pictures below) where we captured Facebook as it was in that time creating the script depending on people’s (including at times the audience’s) Facebook posts. All the music, words and dance moves were completely based upon what people had shared and posted online. We had so much fun creating that show and I would love to read back the script now to see how Facebook has changed since that time! (Looking back at the photos has also jogged my memory of when Luke smashed a wine glass and all our hearts – including the technicians – stood still for fear of the smashed glass in our bare feet! Sorry!)

I also fell in love with the most recent Out There Theatre piece Smidge – the journey of an imaginary friend as its human grows up. Facilitating, researching and directing this piece gently led me towards my career of nurturing children’s imaginations and mental well-being as class teacher in Primary Schools. I haven’t returned to theatre making since Smidge, but perhaps one day soon…

Hayley Joy

The volunteer’s viewpoint

It would be quite remiss not to mention Jo and Lisa the technicians at the Baptist Hall.

They ruled the venue but they were very kindly and  dependable to both the performers and the volunteers. The show always started on time and ran smoothly. It was  a joy to see them each year.

Jo Hotchkiss helping the next generation of technicians find their feet

There was always a feeling of excitement when the doors opened and we collected the tickets. The ticket collector introduced the show pointing out the fire exits etc making sure you got the left and right exits correct!!  a few giggles from the audience if and when you made a  mistake but it was your one and only chance to stand in front of an audience!!  

Then you were able to sit in and watch the show. Some times you were lucky and made it to see a good show more than once. My moment was seeing the faces of the children after an enthralling children’s show.

Travellers’ Tales – photo by Dave Green

The comments pinned on the notice boards after a show  made very interesting reading and were very diverse. Meeting up again with fellow volunteers each year  was always fun.

Where are you now???

Happy days


Bringing raunch to Barnstaple

Well Thumbed at the Barnstaple Fringe! The sun was shining that week. Barnstaple audiences were lovely; there was a genuine appetite for grown up spoken word.

I think my favourite memory has to be the two young men (I think it’s them in the foreground of this pic) who came to see the show two nights running. Afterwards, they wanted specific information on one of the muckiest Well Thumbed authors quoted in the show: John Wilmot (1647 – 1680), 2nd Earl of Rochester.

Why is that a favourite memory? Well, it was the quality of mischief; a conspiracy of performer and audience that, fingers crossed, kickstarted started a new generation on random journeys through classic literature.

The new show that Notional Theatre has been developing, The (Adults Only) Epic Narrative of Jack Sprat’s Wife, is waiting for the chance to get to Barnstaple. It has been filmed a la Quarantino, and is going online with Guildford Fringe Festival.

Back to 2017. Was it really that long ago? The pic is not great quality. But I was there. And the audience is in focus.

And more and more and more…

A reminiscence from Nicola Cockell who, amongst other things, is the genius who finds billets for many of the out-of-town companies. This part of the operation is often referenced by performers as being both a help financially but also a really important part of experiencing Barnstaple. It’s a jigsaw puzzle in which the number of pieces is far superior to the number of remaining gaps. But somehow she manages.

She’s also the current Treasurer of Fringe TheatreFest having been Chair in the past and has been instrumental raising the funds that allow all this to happen.


We had some members of SOOP theatre company staying with us. They had brought Scallywags to Fringe, which was a fairly large cast play.

Our visitors realised we had a large loft space and asked if they could use it as a rehearsal space. We agreed.

Do you know that scene near the beginning of the first part of The Hobbit when Bilbo unwittingly plays host to a mob of dwarves, well, that was us? The doorbell kept going and more and more young men, dressed in a variety of army uniforms kept appearing at the door and disappearing up the stairs.

I have no idea how many there really were, but it seemed like a legion at the time.

Pete Burford

There are many underlauded people who are vital to making Fringe TheatreFest work. We’ll try to shine a light on some of them over the weekend.

Pete Burford has been an intrinsic part of Fringe TheatreFest from the very beginning and his contribution has been not just vital but also multi-faceted.

As a director, workshop facilitator and teacher he has inspired several generations of young theatre makers in Bideford and beyond to think beyond the obvious. And many of them have gone on to develop work for Fringe TheatreFest, getting experience not only in the creative process but also in the nuts and bolts of setting up a company and promoting a production.

With White Hippos and Monday Collective he has overseen a whole variety of productions that have prodded away at notions of what theatre is and where it might happen.

Street performance to launch Fringe TheatreFest 2017

Latterly Pete has assumed the burden of recruiting the Fringe tech team, assembling the equipment needed to turn empty spaces into studio theatres and supervising the installation of the equipment in just two days. It’s a monumental challenge.

From 2007, technical equipment and staffing were provided by North Devon Festival/North Devon Theatres with the support of North Devon College. The North Devon Festival came to an end in 2011. From then until 2016, North Devon Theatres provided the bulk of the support under the supervision of Glyn Allen at the Queen’s and with the invaluable Jo Hotchkiss as the lynchpin between Fringe TheatreFest and the theatre. But whenever we sneaked in another theatre we had to take responsibility for providing the tech, so Pete became , in effect, the Fringe technical manager. When we started flying solo in 2017 Pete suddenly had a huge job on his hands. It is the most difficult aspect of the whole operation and anyone else would have buckled but Pete has stuck at it and – with a lot of help from other (as yet) unsung heroes – he has seen us through.

Beyond that, Pete has been part of the committee and management team that have run TheatreFest for the last four years and his contribution to the continuous reimagining of the festival has been unstinting – including initiating the late-night cabarets that have become such a popular meeting place. His fingerprints are everywhere.

This just in by email…

Sat 6/27/2020 1:15 PM

Hi Gill & Bill, 

It’s Sidney + Tristan here from The Last Baguette. Hope you guys are doing ok? We are fine day to day but with background worry about theatre…

Just wanted to share our memory of Barnstaple Fringe when we came with What’s The Matter?

It was great to come to Barnstaple Fringe with our new show in 2016 (it was the day after the Brexit vote – we were reeling!) We’d just moved back from living in France and it was a great place to play.

We remember enjoying playing a bit of music on the street and in the cabaret. So supportive, friendly and fun!

Thanks for having us.
Sidney and Tristan x

Podcast episode 6

An inspiring conversation between Liam Gifford and Nathan Rodney-Jones about how the Fringe TheatreFest experience can stir and shape an interest in theatre – Nathan was 9 when he first blitzed out on performances – and the particular sense of community that we’re all missing this year.

A message from Exeter

Long live Fringe Theatre Fest! 

Cygnet Theatre had a glorious few days in Barnstaple last summer. The friendliness and diversity of the festival remains a joy and warm welcome given our billeted actors was very much appreciated. 

Personal highlights were Nathan and Ida’s Hot Dog Stand – so good we brought them to Exeter;  and taking a role in Hamlet performed by  Emily Carding.   I recall dying and experienced the end of the play from the floor.

Happy days

Alistair Ganley and all at Cygnet Theatre, Exeter.

Cautionary Tales for the World’s Worst Children 2019 

Severance with Interwoven in 2012

A deeply moving experience

Hi Theatre Fringe 

Such a wonderful experience to go to a play in an old church building with great atmosphere where we could all see the play with tiered seating . 

The play was so beautiful and thought provoking , it really brought you into the heart of what was happening at the time . Afterwards no one could speak the audience was completely silent. After the play my friend walked out into the street and  spontaneously hugged one another and cried. 

I would recommend the fringe to everyone and certainly that play . 

Joanna Chapple

A message from Project:Dance! Devon

Project:Dance!an integral part of Fringe TheatreFest since 2013 – have a video message to share plus the thoughts of one of their multitude of performers.

One of the company leaders talks of the tears of pride she has for the enthusiasm and joy that the dancers radiate. They have huge hearts. I [Bill] had tears of pride in my eyes when I first saw them rock the Queen’s Theatre in 2013 with the aptly titled Come One, Come All!pride that they had chosen to be part of Fringe TheatreFest.

It is such a shame that we cannot perform in TheatreFest this year, but thinking back about all the times I, and Project Dance Devon have been able to perform it brings back such enjoyable memories. I still vividly remember the first time that I performed with Project Dance Devon, on the stage at the Queen’s Theatre, the immense feeling of joy and pride of the show we performed, after working hard on it for many months. I don’t think there is anything more gratifying that being able to perform with many good friends and showcase our talents in the local area.

Over the years we have performed in many different locations, with the most recent being in The Bridge Chambers building. This was somewhere we had not performed before, but was a perfect fit for the topic of our play, all about people in the afterlife sending messages back to their loved ones on Earth.

This year has been a good chance to reflect and look back on all the past performances.

Getting prepared for TheatreFest 2021. Which I’m sure will be bigger and better than ever before!

Project:Dance! performer

Fringe Saturday

There’s been a lot of activity on this Fringe TheatreFest 2020 blog already – twenty two posts and lot of reactions and interactions.

But we’ve scarcely started. There is more, so much more, to come.

To get us going, here’s a selection of posters to jog the memory. Are there half-forgotten gems that come into focus?

Comment on Facebook, Twitter or on this blog!

Latest podcast – an international perspective

Listen to this.

A fascinating conversation between Liam Gifford and Rosa Bekkenkamp that gets to the heart of why Barnstaple is a really great environment in which to present challenging new work. These are two experienced theatre-makers talking excitedly about what Fringe TheatreFest meant to their own development and they offer some important thoughts about what happens post-coronavirus.

Rosa is an Amsterdam-based theatre-maker who brought work to Barnstaple as part of Almost Human and, most recently, with another international company, Barely There.

See the trailer for Together

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:

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: 

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: 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.