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Maggie Brown: Local is best when it comes to theatre and live entertainment

The White Bear Theatre in Kennington
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Which live performances and venues do I enjoy the most? This question came up in a recent conversation with a relative, who is a particular fan of cruises.

He was looking cheerful having just returned from one, so I asked where he was going next and the answer was a surprise: another cruise, in August. It leaves from Dover, docking at Leith, with the express purpose of watching Edinburgh Festival Fringe acts, which come to the passengers, on board. It cuts out the traipsing around, the crowds, and after taking in a show you can disembark and enjoy the quayside restaurants.

It made me think about my own favourite events of the year; they were firmly on dry land and smaller, local events. The best I have attended so far in 2018 was a small, privately organised rock festival held annually in some Oxfordshire fields owned by one of my husband’s best friends. We hadn’t been for years, and as we parked the strains of a rather melodious Grateful Dead tribute band wafted through the sunlit trees.

The entrance fee, if you were not camping, was £10. The music continued to be great – not a DJ in sight. The tribute musicians, later munching with us at a barbecue across from the marquee it turned out to be three very eminent Oxford scientists, disguised as ageing hippies, and a doctor.

The rest of the acts were local, very competent musicians, who veered between Bob Dylan covers and their own compositions. There were about 300 people, some with children, and plenty of friendly dogs. No mud, no drunks.

The smaller, more intimate local theatres have also become more attractive, not just to me but my friends, who love the theatre. My favourite is the White Bear in Kennington, where you can eat and drink well too.

There is so much acting ability in Britain, and in smaller venues you can get up close to the performers. It is engrossing, and a way of appreciating the sheer energy that goes into delivering a play. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg either: if the show’s a dud, it doesn’t pain you to opt out at the interval. It’s less hassle than the West End, which I find alienating.

Where I live in south London, I make a date with the orchestra that plays classical programmes and the Herne Hill music festival. When in Wales, I like to catch the Llangollen male voice choir, which practises in a big coaching inn on Friday nights, then goes into the main bar to entertain. Local really is best.

As an aside, one of the regular tasks we have all faced recently has been the deluge of new general data protection regulation emails, with companies asking for consent to continue to use our data.

Trawling through the requests, I realised I would welcome more information from smaller venues. The big theatres are excellent at using social media to market. I hope that a place to browse by postcode for local productions that are off the beaten track is not far behind.

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