Katherine MacAlister has a good root around in Offbeat Festival’s treasure chest

It seemed an impossible dream and a logistical nightmare. Staging Oxford’s own version of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was surely too ambitious given its guidelines? It needed to highlight new work never seen before in Oxfordshire, up-and-coming companies, and a suitably eclectic mix of performers. A foolhardy plan then.

None of which daunted Oxford Playhouse’s chief exec Louise Chantal in the slightest. The Offbeat Festival is her baby, and its debut last year her triumph.

Now back, bigger, better and more colourful than ever before, Offbeat is currently preparing to explode again onto Oxford’s cultural scene.

And with 233 companies vying for the 71 slots, the final list of acts is a wonderfully-honed, eccentric, original, talented and unique line-up, bursting at the seams with artists, comedians, dancers, actors, poets, first-timers, story-tellers, clowns, actors, a hotdog stand and even a rescue dog, running in four theatres and a car park spanning just 10 days.

Where else can one audience member at a time enjoy a story-telling show blindfolded or reimagine a crash in a parked car, listen to the experiences of Herve an adopted busking African -Belgian, or a look into punk and

Continued on page 44

bohemia in Brighton’s 1970s? You can laugh at new comedy show This Flipping Rescue Dog has Ruined My Life, consider politics through Death Metal music in #Torycore, revel in Richard Carpenter’s misadventures or be taken back to mass shooter Elliot Rodgers’ manifesto.

Here, Shakespeare’s Mercutio and Tybalt compete with deputy head Tim Paramour’s account of the teaching crisis, Paper Moon’s origami with tap dancing’s Fall Out, Icelandic trawlers in The Deep with Greek tragedy Medea set in the 1980s.

First timers like mother-daughter duo Unconditional vie with old-handers such as famous comic Mark Thomas, rural tragi-comedy Cow with the urban Nathan &Ida’s New Yorkers, Nye Russell-Thompson’s stammering show Just A Few Words against MonixArts dance and sign language narrative, hip hop feminists Ladylike with Swan Lake comedian Elf Lyons, athiest turned God Todd with Luke Rollason’s Planet Earth III, choreographers Organic Entity with Boris The Musical, acid house’s in We Are Ian and Indian Kathak dancers Aunusthan.

It’s a wild, beautiful, brave, all-encompassing and ambitious pick of the pops, Offbeat’s organisers choosing the real gems.

Neither does Offbeat shy away from difficult or controversial issues, highlighting dementia, class, identity, ecological collapse, sex addiction, grieving, parenthood, blindness, loneliness, failure, social expectation, gender politics, legacy, athiesm, and immigration.

From light houses to weddings, ghosts to liners, bees to the NHS, this bewildering and uplifting collection of artists is truly inspiring: “It is a fantastic showcase for theatre-makers and a unique opportunity for audiences in Oxford to see stars of the future alongside well-known performers, all doing new work,” Louise Chantal agrees.

“This year we have more shows, greater variety and a festival which really brings artists and audiences together.

“By nurturing local talent and bringing the energy and serendipity of a fringe festival to Oxford, alongside the Old Fire Station, it will be like having a mini Edinburgh right on your doorstep.”

But perhaps it is the performers themselves who put it best: Luke Rollason of Planet Earth III fame, explains: “Offbeat is a festival that has hosted some of my absolute heroes - including the man who was my introduction to clowning, the mega-mime Trygve Wakenshaw - as well as being in a city I was once fortunate enough to call home.

“Something I love about the festival is its combination of support for high-quality local and touring talent. So as much as I am looking forward to catching brilliant shows that are the highlights of so many festivals (in particular We Are Ian) what I’m really looking forward to is the unexpected stuff which has been made locally.”

Medea Electronica’s Mella Faye agreed: “Offbeat is a wonderful opportunity to preview our show in front of a festival audience before we go on the road. Oxford’s audiences are keen to try new things and we are really excited about bringing our show there. Getting in front of the audience and sharing that amazing experience of a live show is a fantastic buzz and the audience is so energising. We can’t wait for Offbeat to begin!”

Offbeat Festival is at the Oxford Playhouse and Old Fire Station from tomorrow (Friday) to Sunday, July 2. offbeatoxford.co.uk