The Reading Fringe Festival 2020

A weekend at a festival. Online, of course. And if, like a lot of lockdown theatre, this isn’t as good as the real thing, with no chance of conveying the sense of excitement that surrounds a prolonged event, it’s nice to try out a programme you might not visit. And note how resilient the theatre community is proving.

Stage D’or

Two short pieces from the Stage D’Or company proved worthwhile. There’s a monologue not to miss with The Legacy of William Ireland. Charlie Jack impresses as the personable, inventive and increasingly egotistical title character. A piece of theatrical whimsy, about a Shakespearean fraud, Tim Connery’s script and Doug Kirby’s direction are solid. Ireland’s downfall, as his forgery is discovered, increases pace with controlled humour and a good ear for its period setting.

Hitman and Her is a strong comedy, also by Connery and also directed by Kirby. A pub meeting between a hired killer and a spurned wife is smart from start to finish. From laughs about clichés, subtexts and strong observation, there’s a touch of the ridiculous concerning Post-it notes and Blue Peter presenters. The writing makes excellent roles for Alex Dee and Lou Kendon Ross and the clever end is satisfying.


In a serious vein, Sary by Sam Chittenden is an ambitious piece with a power that lingers. The eponymous character is played by two women of different ages as the story, set in 19th-century rural Sussex, unfolds. Sharing the title role, Sharon Drain and Rebecca Jones are both excellent, as we see their characters’ perspectives on love, sex and loneliness ebb and flow through a long and difficult life.

Steeped in folklore and suspicion, the women’s crafts are matched by Chittenden’s skill as a writer: entwined dialogue is well done and not overused, while the characters’ conversations with one another take on a suitably magical quality. It is a shame that the quality of the filming is not better (the lighting causes problems) but, with its mystical edge and evocations of landscape and seasons, this script stands out. 

And there’s more

There are plenty of other plays to check out. Next on my list is a piece about Natalie Barney by Kelly Burke adapted into an audio drama. And there’s a whole web page of 360-degree theatre with plenty of stars from reviews already written. Thankfully, it’s enough for another weekend.

Until 31 August 2020