Week Two of Brighton Festival and Fringe 2017

Still busy, still being impressed and surprised, still drinking too much of the Warren’s Festival Ale. Following on from last week’s reviews and recommendations, here’s week two of our Brighton Festival and Fringe coverage.

Scorched
Rialto, 9th May
This is a scintillating one-man play, beautifully enacted, with a core as hard as iron. It takes us inside the mind of Jack, an old man with a life distressed by war and poverty. It starts with him sitting beneath a standard lamp. He mocks the doctor’s orders. “Do this Jack, do that Jack.” A flickering TV promises to announce the jackpot winner. His mind wanders and we are transported. We follow segments of Jack’s past stories that remain real in his present. He is bent by the heat of war-torn Cairo. He’s stunned by the torn head of his fellow soldier. He weeps beside his dying horse. At home, a coffee cup spills Saharan sand onto the carpet. He slides his old gun down the armchair’s lining. The image of a horse gallops across the lampshade. Scorched, directed by Claire Coache, is simply top class. It’s conjured by Robin Berry’s physical presence and masterful transformation of props. The lighting exactly pinpoints the mood. There’s never a wrong blink or a false moment. Best of the Fringe drama? (MA)
Find out more about Open Sky theatre here.

The Odditorium: Pioneering Women in Music
Spiegeltent, 10th May
You can’t get much more pioneering than the ground-breaking electronic composer and innovator Daphne Oram. Being a life-long fan and biographer of Oram, Sarah Angliss, an acclaimed musician in her own right, was the perfect choice to celebrate this extraordinary woman. Her passionate and informed presentation was embellished with photos and experimental sound clips from the birth of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop that Oram co-founded and took us from an obsessively inquisitive child to a woman driven by her quest to create new sounds. A wonderful talk on a fascinating life. Next was Viv Albertine, talking about her own icons. This was a slightly less thought out discussion, as it’s not very punk rock to worship icons, and her first choice, Yoko Ono, was only considered initially due to Viv’s obsession with John Lennon. She reminisced about her fellow Slits, “more of a gang than a band”, Vivienne Westwood’s no-fucks-given attitude and her return to music after a 20-year hiatus. During the Q&A a man read an empowering quote about women written by a man, the irony of which wasn’t lost on Viv. (SC)
The next Odditorium features Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair and John Higgs on 24th May. Buy tickets here.

Cinebra: A History of Horror
Rialto, 10th May
This is a rip-roaring and playful look at the horror film. It’s a mix of drama and video delivered, implicitly, in drag. It’s a comedy until things start going wrong… Horribly wrong. Megan and Sophie are both seventeen years old. The theme of their end-of-term presentation is the semiotics of horror movies. They certainly know their stuff. But they are, like you know, a bit nervous with the Powerpoint. “We really like movies,” they tell us bashfully. You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr… “So, any initial questions?” They play us the comic video of their interview with Nosferato. We’re nearly up to the Splat, Stick and Blood epoch when strange things start happening. They begin falling out. There’s a power cut. Everyone’s getting a bit nervous. Maybe a friend can help on Facetime? This is an ingeniously clever and funny pastiche. It’s performed and written by Lydia L’Scabies and Rococo Chanel. Great late night theatre that will keep you laughing. (MA)
Buy tickets for tonight, 18th May, here.

Cathie Pilkington: The Life Rooms
University of Brighton, 10th May
A realistic sculpture of a girl staring fixedly into a mirror forms the centrepiece of Royal Academician Cathie Pilkington’s installation. Visitors squeal with horrified surprise as they discover her, initially hidden from view behind a partition. There is something gently unsettling, horror movie style, about the figure. The notion of a sculpture so intently looking at itself immediately feels like a creepy inversion of reality. It’s thrilling and thought-provoking. Room two of this display is a realistic scale model of the life drawing room at the Royal Academy schools. When SOURCE visited, a fun drawing class was in full flow, complete with flamboyant Italian tutor and clothed model. The class ended, people drifted away, and we were disappointed to discover this life class is a lunchtime-only novelty. The rest of the time the ‘life’ room is designed to sit abandoned. It’s meant to be a comment on art and observation, of course, but it was less fun to look at. Our advice: take advantage of one of the free tutored sessions. (PF)
Free entry. Open daily – check times here. Lunchtime life drawing on 18th, 23rd and 25th May (12.30-2pm)

Billy Bragg In Conversation With Alexis Petridis
The Spire, 11th May
Billy Bragg came to a packed church near Whitehawk to discuss and promote his new book, Roots, Radicals And Rockers, which traces the surprisingly brief history of skiffle. Though very few recordings remain from the era (it feels like we hear most of them on a loop before the talk starts), this rough and ready style had a big impact on music, arguably providing the missing link between jazz and rock’n’roll. Opening with a reading from the book, Bragg explained how the genre was born out of the popularity of ‘breakdown bands’ that played during the interludes at jazz gigs in the early 50s. Amusingly, these informal sets became much more popular than their host bands and gave birth to a new style of three-chord teenage music which exploded across the UK. Sales of guitars soared throughout the decade and one estimate suggests there were between 30,000 and 50,000 skiffle bands by 1957. Music writer for The Guardian, Alexis Petridis, was on hand to prompt Bragg with some choice questions, but the latter didn’t need much encouragement to enthuse on his subject. Drawing numerous parallels with punk while doing a good job of evoking the musical culture of the time, Bragg made this almost-forgotten genre seem vital and certainly worth a revisit. (BB)

Jane Postlethwaite
Lamb @ Nowhere Man, 12th May
Jane Postlethwaite’s ‘The House’ picks up where her previous show ‘Made in Cumbria’ left off, with an array of well thought out and hilarious characters. The far North-West is a part of the country that seems somewhat little-tapped for comedy purposes so far, but it’s Brighton-based Jane’s place of birth and in its faintly unfamiliar accent and sense of distance and quasi-isolation provides a good basis for situational comedy. We don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but ‘The House’ gave us some good-time belly-laughs as well as a little bit of an edgy, dark and occasionally surreal experience. The characters are well developed and the surprising format immediately engages the audience and provides plenty of room for improvisation, meaning every show is slightly different. Recommended. (JS)
Get tickets for the 19th or 27th May, or 3rd June here.

Ocean Wisdom
Brighton Dome, 12th May
Ominous masks aside, you wouldn’t instantly place mic-wielding menaces The Four Owls in a theatre. This supergroup of eloquent, frequently hilarious lyricists tell tales more suited to grimy clubs and fantastical festival nights, and their label, the consistently excellent High Focus, tends to vociferously give voice to the disenchanted, its releases unflinchingly gritty and (production notwithstanding) unpolished. This invasion of the Brighton Festival’s headquarters might chart unfamiliar territory, but it is, unsurprisingly, a low-slung, slow-jamming triumph of offbeat storytelling. The Owls are supporting Ocean Wisdom, a rising star famed for firing out plumes of lyrics with a rapidity reminiscent of early Eminem. His only wasted words come before the beats resume: “usually I like to get my Frankie Boyle on and talk some shit,” he tells his exultant crowd, turning down the chance to unleash his inner Scottish fireball out of respect for the Dome’s stipulations on timings and a need to bring out the brilliant ‘Splittin’ The Racket’. By the end, a mass cipher has broken out. “It’s been emotional,” says Wisdom. Nights like this don’t happen too often on this scale. (BM)

Bovine Cemetery’s Literary Funeral
The Skiff, 12th May
Filled to bursting with literary allusions to funerals, murder plots and the absurd Will and Testament of a deceased ‘Sir Quentin Versavious Baàstard QC’, Bovine Cemetery’s Literary Funeral was anything but dead. Experienced and first-time readers alike, writers Alice Ash, Jan Horbacz, Glenn Stevens, Nora Blascsok, Noam Bergman, Andrew Lambie, Niall Stic, Pippa Says, Bill Parslow, Richard Moyse Fenning and Ben Tucker all read their short stories, poems and letters from behind a coffin painted black and white in true bovine fashion. Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ formed the background to thoughtful tales of the afterlife, personally designed Heavens; the death of the novel, and letters written to female serial killers. The evening celebrated writers with black souls and dark humour; proving once again that Bovine Cemetery consistently provide original, imaginative and exciting literature for all. (HA)

Stuart Black: Flea Circus
Caroline of Brunswick, 13th May
Are you drunk enough to sit through the grotesque thoughts of an ageing and desperate man? Comedian Stuart Black suggests this question could double as the title of his show, but he’s only half joking. His is an anxious style of stand-up that veers between absurdity and brutal honesty. Is he revealing himself or playing a weird persona? It’s a tension that runs through this hour-long show and allows for all sorts of sidesteps and clever self-aware quips. His material is certainly on the deviant side – we’re given character monologues about skewering Gary Barlow’s eyeball with a fork (his optic nerve flapping like a tadpole) and wanking off the Dalai Lama into a beaker – but those with a taste for the macabre will find this stuff hilarious. Anyone can do gross, but Black’s turns of phrase are unexpected and meticulous. He may have the air of a man who sometimes struggles with life, but he’s clearly found a form of redemption by laughing right back at it. (BB)
Back on 19th, 20th, 21st, 26th and 27th May, click here for details.

Shirley Collins: Lodestar Live
Brighton Dome Concert Hall, 14th May
Having found her voice again after a near 40-year silence, Shirley Collins gathered the cream of the British folk scene to perform her new ‘Lodestar’ album. The night began with the Brighton Morris Men jingling across the stage before a collection of Collins’s friends and peers played two songs each in her honour. John Kirkpatrick was one of many standout guests and was deservedly allowed a third song. For her own set, Collins was seated centre stage, regal yet unassuming, her voice aged but not frail, giving each song a backstory and provenance. With jigs, murder ballads, reels, shanties and mountain songs sourced from around the world, this was a joy from beginning to end, with the final selections taken from her travels around the USA in the 50s, collecting songs with Alan Lomax. A rare and emotional performance from a Sussex legend that will stay in the memory long after the Festival has ended. (SC)

Shit-Faced Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet
The Warren, 15th May
Ah, Shakespeare: the bard of England, the original wordsmith, with such beauty and lyricism in his prose. What could make his iconic play Romeo And Juliet better, we hear you ask? How about two cans of Fosters and half a bottle of gin, glugged down on stage by a swaying, slurring Romeo? The premise of Shit-Faced Shakespeare is simple and there can be no doubt that the drunken japery has been rehearsed just as tightly as the serious lines, but it’s still entertaining. Tonight’s pissed-up Romeo, played by Robbie Capaldi, delivered consistently with all the loose-limbed gracelessness you could hope for, and the rest of the cast kept up their eloquence and long-suffering huffing throughout. It’s unashamedly silly, but it works. (JMM)

Sam Chittenden: Underworlds
Sweet Dukebox, 15th May
Underworlds is a one-woman play written and performed by local poet Sam Chittenden, featuring six dead women and a spider. Chittenden uses Arachne’s tale of a woman who dared to challenge a God and was turned into a spider to spin a web of minor herstories where the women of fable are brought to life and their suffering under the male pen that recounts their story and hides its truths is revealed. Lot’s wife is named, Cleopatra’s portrayal ridiculed, the inequity of the punishment meted out on Orpheus’s wife laid bare. Chittenden’s background as a poet means that she is an effective raconteur and this short dramatic piece provides much food for thought. (JS)

Generation Why
The Warren, 16th May
‘Generation Why’ is a name that captures the zeitgeist. On the Monday that this theatre show launched its UK debut, news websites were alight with uproar about an Australian millionaire who decreed that millennials can’t afford property because they spend too much on avocado toast. Roundly critiqued as being self-absorbed, work-shy and obsessed with iPhones, with low wages and unstable housing to boot, if you were born in the 80s or early 90s, your generation is probably right to be asking ‘why?’ With so many important themes to choose from, this show had great potential. Unfortunately, though the four actresses were enthusiastic and engaging, the script needed a firm edit. Made up of three sections with little to link them, the hour was a rambling stream-of-consciousness voyage through a myriad of issues and concerns, and left the audience feeling perplexed and a bit dazed. Perhaps that was the intention, but we’re not convinced. (JMM)
Keep up-to-date with Teatro En Vilo here.

Borderline
The Warren, 16th May
Borderline was billed as a satirical look at the Calais Jungle, performed by a mixed cast of Europeans and refugees, and stayed for a three-night run at the Warren’s Main House. As a concept, it’s impossible to knock: who better to tell the tale of one of the world’s hardest hitting humanitarian crises than the people who lived through it? The refugee members of the cast were gamely committed to the performance, with Mohamed Sarrar in particular demonstrating a natural stage presence and charisma, but the European actors, though dedicated, seemed extraneous. The influence of a clowning workshop was evident, and mixing themes such as police brutality and whole families being wiped out by bombs with a blond British guy rolling around pretending to be a dog felt indelicate. There were touches of greatness – the skit about a telephone call from a detention centre was well-executed; the accompanying drummer was excellent – but on the whole it felt like a missed opportunity. (JMM)
Find out more about PSYCHEdelight here.

Here are a few of the shows we’re hoping to catch over the next week: La Llorona, a modern retelling of the Mexican myth, in the grounds of Preston Manor; storytelling, skits and stand-up at The Village, from In Debt We Trust; Thunderflop, the new show from Zach & Viggo, who were amongst our favourites last year; the David Bowie special from Adam Buxton’s BUG; and a full night of music, food, and good old-fashioned storytelling from the magical Bom-Bane’s.

If there’s anything we need to see, let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Words by Ben Bailey, Ben Miller, Jessica Marshall McHattie, Jon Southcoasting, Peter Field and Steve Clements

Viv Albertine photo by Steve Clements
Ocean Wisdom & Four Owls photos by Mike Tudor
Cathie Pilkington photo by Peter Field
Jane Postlethwaite and Sam Chittenden photos by Jon Southcoasting

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

Reviews 4 months old

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