Opinion - Sweet Venues at Brighton Fringe

Having recovered (just about) from a hectic Bank Holiday weekend at Brighton Fringe, VentSpleen looks back at his first Fringe experience and finds it's all about the sweet, Sweet Venues...

Looking back at my first visit to Brighton Fringe and it's really hard to sum the whole weekend up in one word. If you pressed me on this I would, after much pontification, have to distil it down to this. Quality! Sheer and undiluted, absolutely outstanding quality. The level of creativity and the breadth of unique and brilliant individuality on display completely knocked me for six. Now, I am not new at this and my full time day job, as the owner of a PR company that has the honour of representing Independent Films, means that I am constantly exposed to brilliance. I also had high expectations of Brighton Fringe, itself, as being synonymous with artists that are dedicated to bringing inventive productions to audiences. Having travelled to Brighton with this mindset and still to be writing this in a state of dizzying, jaw dropping awe takes some doing (I could wax lyrical like this all day). At the heart of my astounding Fringe experience though was one company and that company is Sweet Venues. This article is an unashamedly biased tribute to Annie and J.D who own and run Sweet Venues. But not to ever be forgotten are the hard working Sweet Venues work force who never ever slept but were always, always passionate and welcoming. It is testament to the ethos that J.D and Annie have built Sweet Venues around that means both Crew and Production use them as their go to venue for Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes as well as pop up Theatre in Dundee.

Whether you are reviewing or attending a production the first impression you get when stepping into a Sweet Venues building is one of professionalism and dedication. Each and every venue is run to the highest of standards and everything from the signage to ticketing is delivered with impressive quality. Personally, I hate getting lost and, as I am almost always running pressed for time for most things, simply do not have the time to get lost trying to find the right door. During my stay at Brighton I visited all four of Sweet Venues, er, venues and always got where I needed to be. I cannot say how refreshing this is and is testament, again, to the importance that the company places on the experience for both performer and audience. I am not alone in this view as, having spoken to a large number of the talented creatives performing as well as the those who were Sweet Venues staff, they all echoed this sentiment. At the heart of Sweet Venues there is a deep and powerful love of theatre and entertainment in all its many forms. Mundanity and conformity are not words you can ever associate with Sweet Venues and the programme is as varied as the offering at Brighton Fringe is. Putting it simply, JD and Annie care with every fibre of their being about what people experience and nothing, but nothing, is too much to ensure that a visit to any of their shows is a positive one. Equally, should you be looking for a venue to be a home for your show or production they should be the first people you look at.

J.D of Sweet Venues

I spoke to JD during the weekend about the decision to use St Andrews, a disused church, as a venue and his answer blew my mind. In addition to it providing an amazing, atmospheric venue for shows such as The Devil Without, it also allows Sweet Venues to contribute to the ongoing running of the church. This reciprocal and supporting attitude was highlighted to me again and again throughout the weekend. It is also one that is carried, whole heartedly, by the staff, many of whom return year after year to work for Sweet Venues. It's not an easy task and involves long hours on your feet to ensure that the show runs smoothly and to time for both audience and performer alike. Emily Carding, who performed her wonderful Richard III show at Brighton Fringe this weekend, commented on Sweet Venues that they are indeed "good peeps". In a society that has been twisted by so many who live just to propagate and promote their own selfish agendas it is truly a breath of very welcome fresh air to discover a company that seeks to be commercially viable AND to ensure that everybody wins.

Finding the right venue for a production is just as important as the performance itself. Never more is this true with shows that are no or low budget, as the audience is not distracted or beguiled by flashy effect but by the believability of the acting. Sweet Venues strives to match perfectly the venue to the show and on this I could not fault them, not even once.

I had intended on writing a kind of Post Fringe article in which I talk about whether my expectations had been met and whether anything was different to what I had imagined. There is no doubt that Brighton is possessed by Fringe when it is on and it runs throughout the entire centre. It is a celebration of diversity and a melting pot of all life styles and every imaginable area of entertainment, with the old adage of "something for everyone"" being absolutely borne out. But I make no apology for this article being focused on Sweet Venues because they are the Fringe! Whether you visit a Sweet Venues show in Edinburgh or Brighton I know that the experience would be of the highest level. Passionate, engaging and never ever boring or the same. Sweet Venues are Fringe but the company is run by two people who are powerfully focused on excellence and achieving the highest possible levels of entertainment. Special shout-out as well to the staff of The Iron Duke (Dukebox Theatre) and to Tom and John who were outstanding. I now have a local that is 70 miles away!

Thank you J.D and thank you to everyone working for Sweet Venues that made my first visit to Brighton Fringe one I will never ever forget.

Have a look at Sweet Venues for yourself here 

Images - courtesy of Sweet Venues

We'll have some of VentSpleen's Brighton Fringe reviews coming up over the next few weeks and will be back with Sweet Venues for the Edinburgh Fringe starting in August.

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