Oxford Playhouse, Burton Taylor Studio and Arts at the Old Fire Station
As if to prove how experimental and quirky Offbeat Festival is, it's a fringe without a mainstream festival to be the fringe of. Nevertheless it has all the fringe hallmarks, celebrating new theatre, comedy, dance, music, storytelling, and a host of unusual show styles and formats, from one-to-one immersive and possibly claustrophibic theatre in the Playhouse dressing rooms (Traffik) to lifesize PacMan in Gloucester Green, or an interactive show where you play an immigration officer (Incoming/Exodus).
As in previous years, there's a much greater range of characters and voices here than in mainstream theatre. Women not only perform, but are also active and plentiful in theatre-making. Women's Writes on Sat 30th is an all-day celebration of plays by women, free, for you to drop in and stay as long as you want. Beneath the Blue Rinse offers an alternative view of old age - not to be pitied, but feared, this couple in their 70s, as they try to best an unscrupulous salesman. Amantha Edmead tells the story of freed slave Mary Prince in Prince's own words, a true story that helped bring about the end of slavery. Coconut takes us inside the world of Rumi, a British Pakistani Muslim woman, torn between love and duty. Hear it for the dyslexics in Everything Is Going To Be KO. And while Lost Voice Guy may not get a voice, he certainly gets his point across.
Some stories are so personal you applaud the performers for baring their lives. Dreamscape is the story of one man's recovery after a coma. This is how he made sense of the world and rebuilt the period of time he'd lost. And in Wolf Tamer Rachel is lost after the sudden death of her adventurous uncle, and goes back into his stories to try to solve her grief.
If that all sounds a bit serious, don't worry - there's plenty of comedy, not just leavening the serious shows, but taking over whole shows. Choose from big name comedians like Bridget Christie and David Baddiel, or gender-balanced comedy nights, improvised murder, and plenty of discussion about sex, from Desiree Burchand Alana. There's also a new musical about Thor and Loki, drag act Denim, Hamlet retold for Nintendo 64, and Shesus & The Sistas are back to reveal your darkest shizzle.
Homegrown talent abounds, not least in Emma Webb's Sole, a story about a community of fishermen's wives, and what happens to one of them when her fisherman doesn't come home. It features a dozen local women and a lot of transistor radios. Last year Emma Webb was clowning, but this year things are darker. Some shows are coming back again after the festival, or touring locally, in case you miss them during this packed week, when (let's face it) no matter how hard you try you can't see everything!
The week starts with lifesize interactive arcade games on Gloucester Green, and ends withThe Dead Secrets' tale of gun-toting, lemonade-sipping Southern Belles in trademark madcap style. Believe us when we say there's something for everyone in this joyous gallimaufry.