13 shows to check out in Brighton Festival 2017

Meow Meow tells an alternative history of Theatre Royal Brighton as part of the Brighton Festival 20

Meow Meow tells an alternative history of Theatre Royal Brighton as part of the Brighton Festival 2017 (Photo by Karl Giant courtesy of Festival of Voices) - Credit: Archant

“Everyday epic” is what guest artistic director Kate Tempest is promising for Brighton Festival 2017. Duncan Hall picks out his highlights

The idea that elitism in the arts can cause a barrier to people seeing or experiencing something new is clearly anathema to Kate Tempest. On a Skype video link from Sri Lanka she visibly bristles when Brighton Festival chairman Polly Toynbee suggests as much – instead pointing out that the biggest barrier is often the price of a bus ticket into town or the entry price.

As such accessibility is one of the major features of Kate’s curated festival – including the launch of a Pay-It-Forward ticket scheme for audiences, donating money towards tickets for those who might not be able to afford them, and two weekends of free workshops in Hangleton and Whitehawk entitled Your Place.

It all links into when she was the vocalist for critically acclaimed trio Sound of Rum and struggled to get her music and poetry heard. “When I was starting out I couldn’t get gigs at festivals,” she says over the Skype line to Sussex Life. “I might get a 10-minute poetry slot in a back alley yurt somewhere. We spent a long time busking and playing little stages for free in large events. Eventually we got some proper bookings, but a huge part of our learning experience was in that period. When you’re trying to make work you want to share it, you’re desperate for gigs and audiences.”

Stories are a key theme in her festival – with a Storytelling Army recruited from people in all walks of life taking to the streets in the last weekend of May. “Everything is narrative,” she says. “It’s absolutely everything you do and believe in, the things you love. Story-telling can help us spot narratives in our own lives. The intention was about creating spaces outside this kind of ivory tower of an arts festival to have some kind of impact outside of that beautiful, metropolitan, buzzy creative Brighton which is so inspiring and exciting in itself. But it doesn’t tell the whole story of what’s happening in Brighton.

“A festival brings an incredible energy to the whole place. Suddenly there is this gathering of different performances and audiences which ultimately goes into the streets and lives of the people that live in these places.”

In this year’s programme Kate explains the idea behind the Everyday Epic theme: “Every day is epic. The routine of survival is epic, but it is this very routine that numbs us.” She is a “huge advocate” for the importance of creativity: “In terms of personal development, mental health, expression, social interaction – it’s always been a part of my life. It’s the way I socialise and have fun, understand myself, it’s what I built my understanding of the world from. For me it’s the most important aspect of life in terms of what it offers to a person.”

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Kate will be performing headline appearances on opening night and the closing weekend of the festival, and a world premiere collaboration with Oscar-nominated composer Mica Levi and Orchestrate reimagining her recent album Let Them Eat Chaos. “Mica is a genius and a friend of mine,” says Kate. “We have been talking about collaborating for a couple of years now, but not quite known where to begin. Something beautiful and strange is going to happen.”

For The Birds

Previously staged in the RSPB Ynys-hir reserve in Wales and in the 2016 New Zealand festival, For The Birds brings together up to 30 different sound and light installations for an immersive 2km night-time walk. “If we have a lot of separate pieces which are all quite small intimate works, added together they create a large landscape composition,” says artist Jony Easterby. “In this space we have got a series of far-reaching views, quite closed forest canopy, open sites, a dew pond and lovely forest rides. We talk about this as a borrowed landscape – rather than have to create an elaborate theatre stage setting we’ve just used nature as a thing we celebrate. It’s rare we come together as groups of people to experience the same thing.”

Secret woodland location, Sat 6 to Sun 28 May (not Mon/Tues), from £10

Five Short Blasts

The UK premiere of a piece originally created in the Port of Melbourne, this exploration created by Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey sees audiences cast aboard a small sea-going vessel to take a voyage into mystery accompanied by a local radio broadcast developed in collaboration with Shoreham’s water communities. The title is an international maritime signal meaning: “I’m not sure of your intentions and I am concerned we are going to collide.”

Shoreham Harbour, Sat 6 May to Sun 28 May, £20


Artist and director Lynette Wallworth tells the story of Nyarri Morgan from Australia’s Western Desert whose first contact with the outside world came through witnessing an atomic test in the 1950s. “This is a virtual reality experience which catapults you into that experience,” says Andrew Comben, chief executive of Brighton Festival. “It’s a beautiful piece of storytelling.”

Lighthouse, Kensington Street, Sat 6 to Sun 28 May, Wed to Sun, £5

Cathie Pilkington

Royal Academy sculptor Cathie Pilkington will be showing her response to Degas’ famous ballerina paintings, Anatomy of a Doll alongside the series of tableaux Harmoniumat the University of Brighton. In Ditchling she has created a new series of works entitled Doll For Petra to coincide with the museum’s Eric Gill exhibition. The work is a response to a carved wooden doll Gill made for his daughter Petra, placing it in context with the artist’s now well-documented abuse of her.

University of Brighton, Grand Parade, Sat 6 May to Sat 27 May, free | Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, Sat 6 May to Sun 28 May, Tues to Sun, £6.50/£5.50

Swan Lake/Loch Na Heala

Dance and theatre-maker Michael Keegan-Dolan’s new company Teac Damsa have produced a take on the classic ballet. It takes in both ancient Irish mythology and modern life, soundtracked with a new score by Dublin-based band Slow Moving Clouds.

Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Church Street, Tues 9 May and Wed 10 May, from £15

Shirley Collins

The Lewes folk legend, who featured in Sussex Life in November, recently released Lodestar, her first album in almost 40 years. This show will see her perform it live accompanied by members of Trembling Bells, modern folk hero Sam Lee and Brighton Morris Men among others.

Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Church Street, Sun 14 May, from £22.50

Meow Meow

The international cabaret diva explores the history of Brighton’s oldest theatre space, ably assisted by the Orchester der Kleinen Regiment.

Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Sat 20 May, from £17.50

Tristan and Yseult

A revival of the production which put controversial Globe Theatre artistic director Emma Rice’s company Kneehigh on the national radar. Blending comedy, live music and passion it tells the Arthurian love triangle between a Cornish king, his Irish enemy’s sister and the enigmatic knight Tristan.

Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Tues 23 to Sat 27 May, from £10

The Gabriels: Election Year in The Life of One Family

Tony Award-winning writer Richard Nelson’s trilogy The Apple Family Plays were a highlight of Brighton Festival 2015. Now he is looking at the rise of Donald Trump through the prism of an American family kitchen table over the course of 2016 in another series of three plays which can be watched separately or together over one day.

Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, University of Sussex, Falmer, Tues 23 May to Sat 27 May, £22/£17.50, or all three for £60/£48

The Bright Field

Brighton-based choreographer Theo Clinkard is the festival’s newest associate artist. This world premiere is split into a mobile installation involving his 12-strong company of dancers and a more traditional performance inspired by public and private spaces.

Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Church Street, Thurs 25 May, from £10


Circa has already won plaudits for Brighton Festival appearances in 2013 with How Like An Angel in All Saints Church, and 2015’s Beyond. Now the Australian ensemble is recreating the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in a night-time promenade performance.

The performance brings together choral singers, aerialists, acrobats and video artists. “The project is about the idea of departing, of leaving life and the things that we love,” says artistic director Yaron Lifschitz.

“But it’s also of heading towards and trying to regain or recapture them, the ephemera and the traces we leave behind. In a sense we are inhabiting the cemetery, we are reverse haunting it. Leading the audience into the underworld and back out again.”

Woodvale Cemetery, Thurs 25 to Sun 28 May, £20/£15

Storytelling Army

Brighton Festival 2017 has a huge programme of storytelling with appearances by authors Ali Smith and Hanif Kureshi, established poets including Glyn Maxwell, Luke Wright and Hollie McNish and newcomers such as Richard Osmond and Zaffar Kunial.

For the world premiere of Storytelling Army Stef O’Driscoll of Nabokov met people from homeless projects and charities and has encouraged them to tell their own Everyday Epic in locations around the city. “It’s those little achievements that we have: whether that is today I am sober, or I have managed to take my kids to school and I suffer from depression, or today is my first day of paid work,” she says. “It’s a chance to celebrate that and tell that story.”

Across Brighton, Fri 26 May to Sun 28 May, free

Britten Sinfonia

Britten Sinfonia and Brighton Festival Chorus join forces for a celebration of American music by composer Aaron Copland and featuring John Adams’ poetic Harmonium.

Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Church Street, Sun 28 May, from £10

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