Brighton silly season
The last week of the festival…it’s come around quick and this week I got to see some shows that I had been eagerly anticipating since the start of May.
‘The Rest is Silence’ by Brighton Dome and Festival’s associate artists dreamthinkspeak, was the first. The set was stunning and timeless modernism and I loved the fact that the audience was the one playing in the round and having the freedom to move around the performance, or not, as we wished. The set was stunning and it led to some moments of genius in the company’s reinterpretation of the well-trodden Hamlet, playing with the timeline and the knowledge characters had of each other. But maybe it’s the purist in me that was disappointed by the overlaying of the ‘To be or not to be…’ speech – one that’s so well-known it’s due a re-working for sure, but I did want to hear this speech with some clarity. That’s a minor quibble really as I came away posing new thoughts on the play and it’s a performance that will stay with me.
David Bachelor’s ‘Palermo Remix‘ at the Regency Town House was a visual treat. The simple, clean and modern work suited the rooms of the in-renovation building and it was a joy to see the Town House a year on from my last visit, still being used for the arts and another step forward in its journey.
Whilst the photo pop up, ‘The Brighton Experience‘ in Churchill Square was little more than a display of the Brighton calendar over the years, as a long-time Brightonian I never tire of seeing these images and the space in the centre of the shopping mall seemed to be bringing in a new audience to the work. The wishing tree – again not new concept – was a touching insight into what Brighton wants at the moment; amongst the calls for love and wealth was the writing of a young boy, ‘I want to be a girl’.
The artwork at 21a Brunswick Square’s open house delivered on the quality and aesthetic. Numbers were high for the house all the way through May and I think this is a house to watch out for in future years too. Great cake too, which is one of the reasons people go to open houses of course – that and having a nose around people’s homes and seeing some art.
This festival has been a great one for me. I have seen a variety of shows from across the Festival and Fringe programmes and felt really engaged in what was going on and have enjoyed and welcomed initiatives like The Warren. This venue made the festival for me in fact; it added not just capacity to the May calender, it created a welcoming and friendly space and offered artistic quality and a reinvigorating of the Fringe and Festival as a whole (and long may it continue).
But speaking to others and overhearing some conversations out and about I wonder again how much the arts penetrate into people’s every day; even with massive visual presence on New Road, posters and (official) graffiti and street banners all over the place in the city centre, I still heard people say ‘the festival doesn’t seem as big this year’, or ‘no, not seen anything about it’.
I almost fell asleep in the theatre this week. Not because it was a boring play (not that it was one that will stay in my memory though…) but because it’s been a week of festival events every day and night and finding myself sat in a warm, dark space of a late Sunday afternoon was a struggle for my eyelids…
The week’s events have left me wondering about the scale and capacity of the festival and its audiences.
I saw large-scale and budget and staggeringly staged productions such as Motor Show and the slick and soulless for it recording of The Book Show, to a two-hander played to a handful of an audience above a scruffy pub. By far the best things I have seen this week – The Fortune Cats ‘Cameron’s Dreams’ at The Rock as part of Brighton Five Pound Fringe, ‘Aural Detritus‘ at Phoenix Brighton as part of the Fringe and Performer/Audience at The Basement and Lighthouse as part of the Festival – have been scratch works, works in development or work about the process of art.
This for me is the spirit that I associate with the arts scene in Brighton and one that I like to see reflected in the May programmes. Performer/Audience was without a doubt the best thing that I have seen this festival. A live performance piece examining the nature of performance and the relationship between the performer and their audience, the show treated the audience with respect and interest and resisted the temptation that I have seen others fall foul of in ridiculing or insulting the audience. This was confident programming by the venues but moreover a bold choice for the Festival that can all too easily slip into safe and assured ground.
I am left this week feeling that yes, there is a place in the Festival and Fringe programmes for works of all scale and stage of development and that this should be lauded and fostered and not lost in the expansion and development plans of either festivals. A constant I have heard this year from some sources is ‘next year it’ll be bigger’. This makes me wonder where will the audience for more shows come from? Is there a finite arts audience, an absolute number of bums-on-seats? Does the arts audience have the capacity for more? And why the hunger for growth in numbers? Will variety, risk and innovation be lost to the ‘bigger’ mantra?
The news that there would not be a White Night 2012 was finally announced this week. An event that suffered last year due to scale and the capacity of the city to absorb its numbers, it is still undoubtedly a real loss to the city’s arts calendar. The reason cited was loss of funding and the fact that there are already so many events on in 2012 so that like our own Glastonbury, it would take 2012 as a fallow year. Another cultural scalp taken by London2012, the Cultural Olympiad and the Jubilee. I do hope that this is indeed a hiatus for White Night – in just four years it has created a sense of being of Brighton, for Brighton and proved that people here have an appetite for the variety of arts activities it presented.
And I hope too that the Festival and Fringe are taking lesson from the enthusiasm with which White Night was consumed by the local population and by the sheer volume, diversity and quality of the arts produced by Brighton for its doorstep audience and use this intelligence to inform its future plans.
It’s been a busy week for the arts in Brighton. The weather doesn’t seem to have put people off getting out and about and the Festival and Fringe seem to be making their presence felt. Or maybe I think that ‘cos I’ve been looking for it…
Highlights for me this week have been seeing, Relay, the work that CCI has supported with Lighthouse, Fabrica and University of Brighton – always good to see something that you’ve played a (small) part in coming to fruition. I’m going to go back to this outside of the private view context to have a proper go on the show and walking tour.
Hangover Square is a brilliant staging of two key rooms from Patrick Hamilton’s partly-set-in-Brighton book and very evocative. I’m not convinced that without prior knowledge of the book that you would feel the same connection to the installation – and this was something the artist also wondered in conversation – but it’s definitely a faithful and sympathetic homage from this much-loved book and an impressive rendering of a room-within-a-room and creation of the claustrophobic and unhinged world of the protagonist.
House at the Dome has dressed the foyer area well. I just hope that the Dome’s audience get past the lights, suitcases and chintzy chairs to see the artwork on display. Once you’ve had a look in the Founders Room, cast your eyes across the foyer walls and take the stairs. If you don’t you’ll miss out on some of the best work.
The Brighton Five Pound Fringe calendar gets busier and busier and is proving to be a reliable programme. And punk-folker Chris TT’s gig at Friends Meeting House last night was superlative. I always come away from one of Chris’s gigs moved to tears and last night was no exception. His voice and credence left me emotionally undone. Again. He’s toward the end of his current UK tour, but there’s a new EP out in the summer.
The Brighton Fringe team has been busy tweeting (and RT’ing ad infinitum) but late night tweets about going on to a party aren’t what I would call the best Twitter etiquette for a corporate account. It led one tweeter to wonder if the Fringe was ‘basically all for the performers not the audience. The problem with Brighton Fest full stop, IMHO!’
This point leads me on to the Andrew Comben, CEO of Brighton Dome and Festival, interview that appeared on Guardian Culture Professionals on 2nd May. I was interested to read what Andrew said about the Festival and Dome’s relationship with its local audience and artists, in particular this comment: ‘…resident artists can develop their work during the year supported by a loyal, local audience while they work towards a major piece of new work that takes place in the May festival.’
The relationship that locals have with the Festival has always intrigued me. I knew of one person that in their first year of living in Brighton thought the festival was just the Ladyboys tent on Victoria Gardens…and with an well-informed arts audience on its doorstep, which of course includes artists in their creative capacity as well as punters, I was prompted to Tweet a link to the feature, asking if Brighton people do feel a connection to the festival.
These are some of the replies that I got back:
- ‘Artists are local audience for Brighton, special relationship spoken of but don’t feel well served’;
- ‘A cornershop would go bust, and fast, if it was managed as The Brighton Dome is’;
- ‘Where’s this audience from around the world? The TEFL students?’;
- ‘All that stuff about developing work with local companies is COMPLETE AND UTTER BOLLOCKS. And every artist in town knows it’;
- ‘They put some token works in ‘development’ to fulfil their remit, then dropped the programme like a ton of hot fucking bricks with little or no explanation to the artists concerned.’
I did get more, which I have been asked not to share even unattributed, but none of them were positive. Are they right? What could be done better? The relationship between the Festival/Dome and the city’s resident artists is one that has come up in my preliminary conversations so for the Brighton Book and I don’t expect it to be solved any time soon. Apart from anything else, the relationship evidently needs some nurturing which will, and should, take time and a good deal of listening from both parties.
Lastly, the D**ly M**l gets the prize for most hackneyed arts feature of the year for its ‘tax payers money spent on rubbish modern art’ feature. Deliberately missing the point, quoting out of any sense-making context and ignoring the facts of the story that the taxpayers money actually funded two major new commissions, an exhibitions and a series of smaller commissions…I’m not going to link to the Mail from this site so if you want to read it, this is your search term – ‘Modern art IS rubbish: Taxpayer forks out £95,000 for this ‘artistic skip’ placed in city centre to ‘make people think.’ *face/palm*.
The days ahead bring me to Performer/Audience; Motor Show; Regency Town House; the Open House at 21a Brunswick Square, which has been getting a lot of positive comments; ‘In Conversation’ with Tony Benn and Owen Jones; the recording of The Book Show; the Miniclick Duke of York’s screening of Control and post film Q+A with Stephen Mallinder of Caberet Voltaire; Black Dog at the Marlborough; and Oedipussy at Theatre Royal.
After that, its FutureEverything in Manchester…
Brighton is a city that’s not shy of a festival or two – make that two hundred, the cultural calendar is that busy here – but it’s May that is anecdotally referred to as its ‘silly season’ with the behemoths of the Festival and Fringe, the prevalent Artists Open Houses, as well as Great Escape and a number of breakout and regular arts events.
This is a particular busy May for me, with projects that Creative Campus Initiative has supported being part of the highlight Festival programme, a plethora of friends shows to see and shows that have caught my interest – this is one of the first years in a while that I have seen such a breadth, wealth and quality of creative offerings in May.
I’m making the most of this being on my doorstep and will be getting to see as much of the silly season as possible (actually, I started yesterday, going along to the launch of The Ceramic House). I’ll blog about it here too, but for now, some of my highlights for the coming month.
I’m really excited about The Warren ‘popping up’ in Brighton; the empty space is being set up now to become a high spec theatre and performance space (and late night bar, which with some old favourites for this purpose missing from the landscape this year, is an important asset) and I really wish this venue well. It’s a strong programme that James and the team have put together and one that I think could really stretch as well as entertain its audience.
Brighton Five Pound Fringe is an independent initiative set up by Brighton’s Foundry Group, detailing all the shows on in May that are £5 or under. Its free for artists to get their listing on the site – whether you are part of the Festival and Fringe or not – and with an impressive roster of award winning shows and performers already included, this will prove an essential guide to what’s on that’s good as well as affordable.
I’ve known Artists Open Houses for some time now and am loving its continued reaching out from the homes of the city into its more predictable arts spaces, a reversal of what many arts organisations strive to do and which brings the Open Houses network into the heart of the city and festival scene; this year’s HOUSE 2012 at the Dome is one that I am really looking forward too.
The Miniclick film and photography events are a testament to the strength and calibre of this talks programme (well done Jim) and this month sees events at Duke of Yorks and with UoBrighton MA Photography students; the architecture nerd in me can’t wait to see Palermo Remix at the Regency Town House (after popping into see the work at 21a Brunswick Square); the nosey parker in me can’t wait to have a peer in the windows of Motorshow (as well as get my car nerd fix); I have it on good authority that DreamThinkSpeak will be jaw dropping this year – but its sold out and extra show status confirms we have already guessed that; and finally the Contemporary Art Gong Show – only for the brave.