Brighton Festival: 50 Fabulous Years
It’s hard to believe we have enjoyed half a century of the Brighton Festival. Laurence Olivier and Pink Floyd graced the inaugural festival, followed in ensuing decades by Ella Fitzgerald, Quentin Crisp, Etta James and countless other characters.
Major themes leap from the current programme: death, Shakespeare and WW1. However, Guest Director Laurie Anderson chose home as the overriding theme because it encompasses so many big issues, such as identity, community, immigration and safety. And any barking-mad dog owner will enjoy taking their pet to Laurie’s performance piece, Music for Dogs.
The 50th anniversary line-up sees more commissions, exclusives and premieres than ever, including the co-commissioned House Festival with artist Gillian Wearing. Sally Smith will talk about her biography of Brighton-born barrister Sir Edward Marshall Hall KC, known as “The Great Defender” for successfully defending many suspected murderers. And there’s the world premiere of Stella, a play about Victorian cross-dresser Ernest Boulton, by local theatre man Neil Bartlett. Boulton and a friend were the sons of a judge and a stockbroker who became male prostitutes, known as the “He-She-Ladies”. Prosecutors bribed witnesses and charged them with “the abominable crime of buggery” in a notorious case which tested the very nature of justice.
Given they’re experts on the schedule, what would Festival insiders recommend? Emma Robertson, Brighton Festival PR, says: “I saw Volker Gerling: Portraits in Motion at the Edinburgh Fringe, so I’m excited to see its English premiere. His work is beautiful and insightful.”
More than 900 shows will grace – or disgrace – the Fringe, covering everything from murderous parish council elections (Parish Fete-ality: A Game of Scones) to swing dancing (Brighton Swing Thing). Some are created by newcomers, others by seasoned regulars, yet, with over half of performers from Brighton and Hove, home-grown talent isn’t hard to find.
Unlike the festival, there are no vetting conditions for performers, so anyone can take part. The brave test their work on Brighton’s welcoming crowds before heading to other famous festivals such as Edinburgh and Dublin. Feel smug when you see these pieces before they feature in a sell-out tour.
To experience the Fringe in the wee small hours, head to the All Nighter on 27 May, when performances and exhibitions run through the night, finishing at 8:30am. Cue several litres of coffee (or glasses of something a bit harder). Away from the drama, architectural tours of Embassy Court, a walking route tracing Brighton’s lost cinemas, and the city’s illustration fair all offer something different. There’s even a tea mixology workshop at the Bluebird Tea Company.
First-time visitors needn’t get overwhelmed by the packed programme. Hester Phillips, from the Fringe team, has plenty of tips: “Try starting at Fringe City, which we run every Saturday and Sunday around the North Laine, New Road and Pavilion Gardens. You will find samba bands, show-stopping numbers on the main stage, and smaller acts like comedians and poets on the busking stage. On 7 and 14 May there’s even a Fringe Picnic.
“Afterwards, try the Spiegeltent, our new seafront venue called Republic, or the Warren, and get a sense of the atmosphere. Just wandering around Brighton and asking for recommendations is good, too.”
Di Coke, an award-winning Brighton-based blogger, is a Fringe fan. She’s already earmarked her favourite production: “It has to be Funk The Family: a great opportunity for kids [and grown ups] to dance, have fun, and enjoy live music at a family-friendly festival. I’m looking forward to relaxing with a beer on my picnic blanket and enjoying the party.”