Rainbow-coloured bunting drapes the streets, stilt walkers in French mime outfits hover on street corners and someone, somewhere is playing a kazoo. Yep, it’s May in Brighton. We’re in full festival swing this month with the Brighton Fringe (6th May – 5th June) and the Brighton Festival (7th May – 29th May), which this year celebrates its 50th birthday.
Established in 1967, the Brighton Festival has grown to become one of Europe’s leading arts festivals drawing a wealth of talent in comedy, drama and performance art sectors from across the globe.
Since 2009, festival organisers have introduced guest directors each season with greats such as Brian Eno, Ali Smith and Anish Kapoor all tapping the baton. For 2016, performance artist and musician, Laurie Anderson, takes the lead. A pioneer in electronic music, she invented the tape-bow violin, became NASA’s first-ever artist-in-residence and was also married to the late, great Lou Reed.
About a month before the festivities begin, I’ll start mooning over festival brochures ringing everything I’d like to see in pink Sharpie, like it’s November 1984 and I’m armed with the Argos catalogue and a red Bic in anticipation of Christmas. One event I’ve ringed several times is Operation Black Panther (7th- 28th May – various locations – £20), a new immersive theatre show which takes you into the dark world of undercover surveillance. With the help of artists, Blast Theory, and immersive theatre company, Hydrocracker, you, the audience, are given a new identity and sent into an undercover operation in the city.
I’m also rather macabrely tempted by Death Market at the Dome cafe-bar (22nd May, 14:00-16:00 – free) and Let’s Talk About Death (22nd May – Corn Exchange – £8), a candid discussion by a team of experts including Tim Crouch, director of The Complete Deaths, exploring one of life’s most taboo subjects.
And there are more free shows than ever this year. Check out the premier of the Lou Reed Drones at the Spire at St Mark’s Chapel in Kemptown (13th – 17th May – free). It’s an installation of the musician’s guitars and amps in feedback mode (yep, you heard it), created by Reed’s former guitar tech, Stewart Hurwood. And Giddy Brighton (7 – 29th May – University of Brighton Gallery, Grand Parade) – a fascinating exhibition of films, interviews and images exploring life in Brighton through the 40s, 50s and 60s. You can also download the Giddy app and listen to tales of first kisses and romantic dances on a walking tour of the city.
The festival offers plenty of visual delights including Luminary, a series of LED light drawings by artist Ron Haselden in the Fabrica Gallery (until 29th May – free). At night, look out for Haselden’s masterpieces in random windows around the Hanover district.
As usual, kids are well catered for at the festival. There are various drop-in art workshops about the future at ONCA (7th to 29th May – free). Or come and meet the children’s laureate, Chris Riddell, for a Q&A at the Sallis Benney theatre (14th May – £6). But this year, our dogs are also catered for. Anderson has brought her rather brilliant Music for Dogs concert, a 20-minute symphony designed for canine ears, to the Brighton Open Air Theatre.
Of course, Brighton wouldn’t be Brighton without something a little close to the bone. Slap and Tickle is a new show by performance artist, Liz Aggiss, which explores sexual taboos and what she called ‘a feminist soup’ via music halls, radio and various risqué costumes (19th & 20th May – Brighton Dome Studio Theatre – £12.50).
Once again, this year’s festival has pulled out all the stops to celebrate its half century, and every day promises a fantastic programme of plays, performances, comedy and art for everyone…even the dog.
Ready to experience festival season in Brighton? Check out our Brighton hotel deals to start planning your trip.
All images courtesy of the Brighton Festival.