Buxton Fringe: New beginning for Underground Venues, but same Fringe frivolity

Underground Venues have a residency upstairs at The Old Clubhouse, alongside its other venue at the Pavilion Arts Centre.
Underground Venues have a residency upstairs at The Old Clubhouse, alongside its other venue at the Pavilion Arts Centre.

It’s a completely different Buxton Festival Fringe this year for Underground Venues’ founders Tom Crawshaw and Yaz Al-Shaater.

After ten years underneath The Old Hall, the pair have set up residency upstairs at The Old Clubhouse.

Underground Venues co-founders Yaz Al-Shaater and Tom Crawshaw with The Buxton Festival Fridge: a curated performance and exhibition space in a real-life fridge.

Underground Venues co-founders Yaz Al-Shaater and Tom Crawshaw with The Buxton Festival Fridge: a curated performance and exhibition space in a real-life fridge.

Explains Yaz: “It’s a wonderful set of rooms with plenty of space for both seeing shows, hanging out and soaking up the Fringe atmosphere. It’s also even nearer to our other venue at the Pavilion Arts Centre.”

The arts centre allows them to house bigger names, bigger shows and bigger audiences. Curiously though, they are almost as excited by the prospect of using a disused industrial fridge!

Defining this bijou venue within the Clubhouse as a “true Fringe experience”, Yaz admits it is “about the size of a small toilet. Or the average London flat.”

Possibly the Fringe’s smallest-ever venue, it has room for an audience of three and will be used for micro-performances and exhibitions.

Did they consider rebranding, now that they are in fact, upstairs?

“We did”, says Tom, “but we hope that Underground has enough of a name in Buxton now that no-one is going to try digging under the Clubhouse to find the venue.”

Yaz adds: “Underground, to us, has always meant secret, undiscovered and out of the ordinary. Our founding principle was to find new work that wasn’t getting a platform and bring it to a new audience, and to oppose censorship and celebrate diversity. Hopefully Underground, the name and the venue, still stand for that.”

Tom continues: “Having fewer performance spaces this year has forced us to really focus on the shows that excite us the most, and we’ve been able to curate a programme that takes in voices from the whole of the UK and internationally.

“There’s ‘And The Rope Still Tugging Her Feet’ set in Ireland, Beerey set on the Isle of White, Eastern European folk and a new play about Nikola Tesla from Philadelphia.”

Adds Yaz: “We’ve also actively recruited some of the best work we’ve seen around the country, such as Labels, which won a Fringe First in Edinburgh last year, and rising star of musical comedy Harriet Braine.”

Tom believes it is UV’s “best comedy line-up ever”.

The unexpected is a given with shows including a local drag act, an opera about Kim Kardashian and one called Throbbing Member, not to mention a comedy featuring a real dog.

With Piff the Magic Dragon’s Mr Piffles - a hit at Buxton some years ago - now performing nightly in Vegas, Tom says: “Never let it be said the Buxton Fringe isn’t a fantastic stepping stone for talented young dogs!”

They welcome the arrival of new pop-up theatre the Rotunda. Tom says: “Managed venues raise the profile of the whole Fringe, so the more the merrier!”

For Yaz, the two venues share a goal: “to convince everyone to take a three-week break from Netflix or the usual routine, and come see some live performances.”

Happier than ever, and thankful to The Clubhouse and the opera house for supporting them, the pair sees this as a new beginning.

Tom recalls: “We were always on borrowed time at the Old Hall – for ten years we expected them to move in with wrecking balls. Now we have the chance to plan for the future with a bit more security.

“We’re very excited about continuing to grow the Buxton Fringe.”