Week Four of Brighton Festival and Fringe 2017

With the shows wrapped up, the posters down and the Warren and Speigeltent leaving us with only dry patches of grass and happy memories, here’s our round up of the final week of Brighton Festival and Fringe activities.

Steine Gardens, Mon 22nd
This is a feisty play anchored around the drama of Nick’s dead body on a student camping holiday. But this is no detective story. Rather, this event helps us explore the shifting allegiances and sexualities between the remaining five. They keep saying: ‘No-one’s to blame. No-one’s done anything wrong.’ But as they argue about what to do with Nick’s body, they’re posing questions about their own. The actors enter through four tents at the corners of the ‘stage.’ The drama shifts back and forth in time. “I thought you were gay?” “I thought you were straight?” Maybe you don’t know. Maybe there’s somewhere where all possibilities exist. Wood is performed outdoors near the AIDS memorial statute. A black terrier threatens a cameo role but strong acting keeps us focused. Boxedin Theatre develops immersive-lite drama on social and political issues, especially queer themes. So, on alternate nights the actors swap gender roles. See it twice and check out how that changes the script. (MA)

Kneehigh Theatre: Tristan and Yseult
Theatre Royal, Weds 24th
The ancient folk tale of Tristan and Yseult tells of family lost and discovered, death, war, and forbidden love, yet Kneehigh Theatre’s very modern production managed to coat these themes with a light, entertaining veneer. Cornish King Mark proves himself to be lucky in battle, but he doesn’t expect the arrival of his long-lost son Tristan, a valiant and mysterious warrior. As King Mark declares his love for his fallen enemy’s sister, the bewitching Irish Yseult, he doesn’t expect her to fall in love with him too. In scenes that were evocative and engaging, and travel across woods and seas, the trio sought romance, acceptance and their fate. The set was exceptionally well designed, with swings and pulleys, and actors flying from stage to stage, under expert lighting and with playful vocal harmonies interlinking the prose. Bittersweet and beautiful, this play was a triumph. (JMM)

The Print-Shop
The Family Gallery, Weds 24th
A trio of illustrators sit in a small studio, observing and recording aspects of Brighton life. When SOURCE visited, Joe Decie was finishing off a sketched compendium of hipster drinks offered in the North Laine – including one served in a jam jar. Modelled on the print-shops of 18th century London, the public are welcome into this open workspace to chat, buy originals and prints, or suggest ideas themselves. We relish the chance to talk candidly with these three voluble, friendly graphic artists. Hannah Eaton published her first book ‘Naming Monsters’ with Myriad Editions, Daniel Locke’s debut graphic novel is coming soon from Nobrow, and Joe Decie’s ‘Collecting Sticks’ was recently published by Jonathan Cape. For graphic novel fans, this is nothing short of an embarrassment of riches. Our only reservation would be that it feels a little too small and tucked away to get the audience it deserves. No matter though – we’re holding out hope that this lovely event can return next year, bigger and better. (PF)
Find out more here.

The Ghosts Of Watling Street
Spiegeltent, Weds 24th
Comic author Alan Moore’s presence ensured a full tent at the Odditorium this evening, joined by fellow writers Iain Sinclair and John Higgs and a rare live appearance for curator David Bramwell’s group Oddfellow’s Casino. KLF biographer Higgs shares with Bramwell a fondness for spinning true tales into the fantastical, his forthcoming history of Watling Street forming the backbone of the show. Higgs delivered a whistlestop tour of stories from the ancient road, while Sinclair took a looser journey north, mixing in ideas from his upcoming epic ‘The Last London’. The genial Moore threw in metaphysical thoughts gathered from his Northampton eyrie, before a group Q&A impressed on the crowd the need for living a creative life of their own. (SH)

Woodvale Cemetery, Weds 24th
There’s something strangely pleasing when figments of your imagination turn out to be real – especially when you’re in a cemetery at dusk. That shape you glimpsed behind a bush is really a dancer, the movement that caught your eye is actually an acrobat hanging from a tree. This is one of the unexpected treats of Depart, an atmospheric performance trail that takes a hushed audience through the winding paths of Woodvale Cemetery. After an unnervingly repetitive greeting from a child stood on a box, we file through the ranks of a choir dressed in black, each singer mouthing their own quiet chant. Despite this horror movie set-up, what follows is a meditative stroll past eerie choral singing, striking dance routines and truly impressive aerial acrobatics. The finale takes place on a purpose-built stage near the Crematorium where massed dancers and gymnasts weave and throw each other into impossible shapes. The end result is both beautiful and nerve-wracking. (BB)

About An Hour
Broadway Bar, Thurs 25th
Brighton Fringe is all about the mass of great little shows in tiny intimate venues, allowing artists and audiences alike to experiment with formats and new material. The number of funny people performing in town this month has been pretty phenomenal, and you could just turn up at venues like the Broadway Bar, Caroline of Brunswick, the Warren and countless others and pretty much be guaranteed to be entertained, often for a few pounds or for free. We caught the ‘About An Hour’ show upstairs at the Broadway Bar (the old Three and Ten) at 11 o’clock on a weekday night. Three lively local comediennes – Roz Ryan, Catherine Heskey and Jules Oliver – performing similar short stand-up sets, in a down-to-earth chatty style with jokes about motherhood, falconry, drinking and other typically random experiences. (JS)

The Warren, Thurs 25th
Siblings is the comedy vehicle for Maddy and Marina Bye, two real-life sisters who clearly have a symbiotic relationship in spite of their differences – one is tall, the other short; one blonde, the other brunette; one went to theatre school, the other to clown school, learning experiences they put to good use in their lively new stage show. The Bye sisters leap on stage like a double-dose of your most annoying younger sister but then bring the audience to fits of hysterics as their boundless energy runs through a series of anarchic character turns, ranging from an abrasive anti-bullying duo, the most improbable space scientists and a brilliant skit based on ghost hunters. Siblings is an engaging performance, run at fast speed with skill and a definite edgy sense of not quite knowing where it will go next. We also loved the dancer’s sense of movement. Definitely more hellos than byes, and highly recommended. No idea where the Australian accents came from mind you. (JS)

Unpopular Culture
The Rose Hill, Thurs 25th
Chris Parkinson is a poet and prankster with a curious mixture of obsessions ranging from aquatic animals and dinosaurs to social media and politics. And also meat. The first half of tonight’s event is a slide show presentation on the eating habits of politicians, displayed via a cranky laptop with a well rehearsed and comical commentary. A habitual collector of strange internet images, Chris plays the part of a bemused tour guide as he ponders why crabs feature in so many political press shots and whether a local pic of David Miliband with a banana changed the course of history. The second half of the night is a poetry set with lo-fi visuals and a similar crop of irreverent themes. Abstract imagery blends and blurs with internet slang as Chris ‘Famous Poet’ Parkinson spins elaborate yarns about Brighton history, gentrification, dinosaur sex and the imminent seagull apocalypse. A master of deadpan satire, he even manages to smuggle some serious ideas into otherwise whimsical pieces that delight in being very silly indeed. (BB)

Zhivago Theatre
Montague Studio, Sat 27th
Zhivago Theatre examines the life of the Russian author, Boris Pasternak, and contrasts it with the storyline of his most famous book. It’s an intimate multimedia show that includes extensive clips from the film adaptation alongside still photos and newsreel from 20th century Russia. The show is narrated by Irena Filippova and Hans Visser, who add a delicate accordion and guitar accompaniment. The folk-inspired music is superb, and the high point of the event is Irena’s soulful and extraordinary singing in Russian. Film clips from Dr Zhivago pinpoint classic motifs of love and longing against the backdrop of tumultuous Russian snowfields. The context is grinding poverty, bloody war and revolution. Yet Pasternak’s own life appears relatively privileged. The plot is firmly linear up to Pasternak’s death. It concludes with some idiosyncratic icons from more recent politics, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to photos of Barack Obama. Overall, the show doesn’t make a firm claim for the importance of Pasternak’s story to contemporary issues, but the live music and film clips are enough to make this a highly entertaining evening. (MA)

Between U and Me
Sweet Dukebox, Sun 28th
A packed house greeted the latest production from Speak Up! Act Out!, a Brighton-based group that devise ‘forum theatre’ to explore contested social issues. The show doesn’t tackle easy themes and it isn’t conventional theatre. It starts with screenshots of facts and figures. It’s women that suffer the vast majority of sexual abuse. But the minority of men who are abused often face disbelief. The main reasons men give for not reporting these crimes are embarrassment and humiliation. We then follow the life of a male survivor of childhood abuse. How do his wife, sister, best friend respond? Forum theatre – based on Boal’s ‘theatre of the oppressed’ – dramatises accounts from lived experience, The outline script is first performed by five actors. The facilitator (Angela El-Zeind) then encourages audience discussion to intervene and change the plot. This collaboration between Speak Up! Act Out! and the charity Mankind, needs more time than the compressed Fringe slots allows. But it convincingly demonstrates the power of drama to engage us in understanding – and devising counter responses – to current social issues. (MA)

Dave Benson Phillips: Christ, I Thought he was Dead!
Sweet St Andrew’s, Sun 28th
The first thing to say is that Dave Benson Phillips isn’t dead. Everyone in the industry thought he was, though, following an elaborate hoax at the height of his TV entertainment career revolving around a supposed car crash in Torquay and a series of prank phone calls to venues he was booked to play. But rather than the Alan Partridge-style outburst of bouncing-back naffness his memoirs could be, the Get Your Own Back hero is a dream of a narrator, never losing sight of the innate ridiculousness of his predicament. You can hear the love in his voice when he talks about returning to the small screen – following what must have been a devastating time out of work, given that it was all down to unshakable news of his demise – simply to do a voice-over for an animated dog cartoon. He creases up while singing a rendition of Kelis’s ‘Milkshake’ to follow a round of ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It’, and, when he brings his seven-year-old son out at the end, he apologises for being self-indulgent. It is a self-indulgent show, as all autobiographical ones inevitably are. But it’s also poignant, warm, funny, winningly enthusiastic and sweetly melancholic. Just don’t tell Julian Clary or Noel Edmonds what Benson Phillips thinks of them. (BM)

Words by Ben Bailey, Ben Miller, Jessica Marshall McHattie, Jon Southcoasting, Mike Aiken, Peter Field and Stuart Huggett

Print-Shop illustration of Hen’s Progress by Hannah Eaton
Depart photo by Tristram-Kenton
Unpopular Culture photo of Chris Parkinson by Anya Arnold
Siblings and About An Hour photos by Jon Southcoasting

See more of our Brighton Fringe and Festival reviews:
Week One, Week Two and Week Three

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