Morecambe sees Fringe benefits as the performing arts flourish

As the Morecambe Fringe gets ready for its fifth and biggest festival yet, founder Matt Panesh looks back on five years.

By Michelle Blade
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 12:30 pm

Matt Panesh said: “When we started in 2017 the dream was to rekindle the performing arts scene, putting Morecambe rightfully back on the map for artists nationally and worldwide.

"Inspiring local people and helping to develop careers, attracting outside investment, having a base, and to be a seed that flowers. That grows from the grass-roots and seeds other things, creating a scene.

“Despite a worldwide pandemic, I think we've moved pretty solidly in all of those areas. Enough so that now there's evidence of our successes.”

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Lemn Sissay and Henry Normal.

Matt continued: “The Morecambe Fringe takes place just before the Edinburgh Fringe - the largest annual ticketed event and arts festival in the world. It's our Flagship festival. This is the fifth, and after the last two years, most definitely a celebration! For me, as a performer, one of the most rewarding things has been seeing our reputation and value grow among the artists. We're welcoming first timers to Morecambe but also, crucially, welcoming old friends back.”

People like Caroline Cooke previewing her new play, Gruoch The Lady Macbeth. She said “This will be my third return to Morecambe since bringing my first solo show to the inaugural Fringe. It is the warmest, most friendly environment and the most inclusive festival I've attended. I wouldn't miss previewing here for the world!”

People like Andy Quick who said: “We had a great time performing 99 First World Problems at Morecambe Fringe in 2019 and are excited to be coming back both our double-act show, Annie & Angela's Disco Divorce Party, and Angela's solo hour, "Angela Bra: Life Lessons" in readiness for the Edinburgh Festival.”

Matt said: "This years Fringe will be slightly different as the Playhouse, our venue and year round base on Yorkshire Street, will be transformed into a TV studio, recording several shows to be streamed across North America on GoPixl's Esports service .

Henry Normal.

“During Covid I went down the path of forming a streaming service. It didn't quite come off. We had all the details, and the deals in place, just a lack of HD quality material. We've teamed up with Ray Turner of Lancaster Film Co-op to sort that out, so now we're ready to record season one of The West End Playhouse Live. All the artists will be on a revenue share, so we're helping give them an income as well as breaking them into the US market. Again it puts Morecambe on the map.

“Inspiring local people? Well, we have the community theatre company, the West End Players, my 'Make your own Fringe show' workshops, and as a legacy 'The Nib Crib'.”

The West End Players were established in 2019 as a community theatre company, open to all to develop acting skills, or make costumes, or get involved in any way they wanted to.

The first play was a version of 'A Christmas Carol' set in The West End of Morecambe, scripted by locals Jim Lupton and Martin Palmer.

Dr John Cooper Clarke.

“Of course, Covid interrupted us but in 2021 we performed the delayed show, 'The Snow Queen' by another West End Player, June Metcalfe, also set in Morecambe. That led us to our biggest show to date, 'Romeo and Juliet', which we performed just last weekend at The West End Festival and it also debuted as our first 'Play on the Prom',” said Matt.

“It was fantastic seeing both the locals at the West End Festival and the tourists on the Promenade being entertained, delighted and enthused by Shakespeare.”

The West End Players next show will be the John Clarke Memorial Award winner, which will be performed at the Morecambe Fringe.

Matt said: “It's hugely important the Players community group has pride of place. We're going through the submissions now. We had seventy plays submitted, from as far afield as the USA, Canada, even Belgium, and some as close as the next street.”

Hawkwind.

The Nib Crib is a new club on West Street founded by members of the Players. “We really want to support writers in the area,” said Jim Lupton, a founding 'Nibbler', “there was little for them.

"Matt's Fringe ignited the spark, and now we're self funded and reliant, and there's a good group of us. We do comedy workshops, writing workshops, a show and tell, film nights, a book club. We're completely community focussed and accessible by all.”

“I saw regeneration happen first hand” said Matt, “in Indianapolis where I was a performer. I saw their Fringe regenerate Mass Ave, turning derelict buildings into hip joints, it was part of my inspiration behind starting a fringe here.

"Hawkwind are returning with Hawkfest, the last time was 2018 which was great fun and energised the town. They'll be at the Winter Gardens from September 9-11.

"And the week after is the first Morecambe Poetry Festival. Dr John Cooper Clarke, Lemn Sissay, Henry Normal, Kate Fox, Atilla the Stockbroker and Joelle Taylor, this years T.S. Eliot prize winner will be here with many, many more poets to be announced. With the towns continuing support, the growing of our players group, and our festivals, it feels like there's more and more for the people of Morecambe to enjoy, experience and celebrate with us.”

The Morecambe Fringe runs July 8-30.

Matt Panesh and Heather Connolly from the West End Players.

The Morecambe Poetry Festival runs September 16-18.

Tickets from here

Hawkfest runs September 9-11.

Tickets from here

West End Players on the promenade through the large picture frame.
The West End Players at rehearsal with director David Findlay.