Streets of Brighton 2005 - On/Off Programme

Feature in Issue 17-3 | Autumn 2005

The evening programme for this year’s Streets of Brighton was something of a mixed bag. Many of the shows were premieres – which sounds exciting, but with much street arts production ‘premiere’ often means ‘not yet tried and tested’ – how one rehearses and develops this sort of work is an ongoing issue for the sector…

The best of the bunch were Desperate Men’s The Miracle Show and The Boilerhouse/Metalvoice collaboration 3600” (Three-Six-Hundred Seconds) both reviewed elsewhere in this magazine.

Radiator – Creation to Cessation was a disappointment. When I reviewed their 2003 production, Dreams and Demons, I tipped Radiator as a young company to watch, with their ability to create interesting visual imagery and an obvious talent for making fantastical – in all senses of the word – costumes and sets. The missing element then was a sense of performance – who or what is holding the space? Unfortunately, two years on, nothing has changed. A beautiful setting, Queens Park late evening, gorgeous lanterns by the lake; strange and beautiful creatures in sculptural dresses, bedecked with leaves; an odd IOU-type large pod thing with waving tendrils; an ominous and enveloping soundscape – yes, all the elements – but what? We arrive, we watch, we wait, we go home. No shape to the piece, no dramatic unfolding, no sense of a meaningful shared experience, I’m afraid.

Bangditos (formerly Scharlatan Allee) – The Guardian Angels continued the company’s obsession with terrorising audiences with motor vehicles – they have now graduated from a Citroen 2CV to a Fire Engine manned by an anarchic crew who seem more keen on firestarting than fire-fighting. There’s plenty of bangs and whooshes – and a bit of Full Monty meets Village People play-acting with the fireman stereotype – but it feels a little tamer than the last show. I have it on reliable evidence that when previously performed ‘sur le continent’, where health and safety regs are perhaps a little looser, it had more oomph. I did, though, enjoy the arrival of the real East Sussex Fire Brigade at the end – a nice touch.

The daytime programme was even more erratic in quality, as can be expected I suppose from a mixed ‘On/Off programme’ showcase festival. Much of the Walkabout was of dubious quality – the exceptions were old favourites like Dot Comedy who leave most of their situation-led comic street theatre competitors at the starting gate. Butch men dressed as angels are usually good for a laugh – viz. Artizani’s Cupids for example – and I was amused by the new Larkin’ About – Electroglide Angels, which twirl and glide Dalek-like through the streets and are only slightly less otherworldly.

Of the static shows, there were a few gems but a good few disappointments. Faceless – Puppet Café had gentle charm and very nicely crafted puppets and masks, but lacked an engaging narrative. The Cercle de la Titote/Ragroof Theatre collaboration Unbinding Lives, on the other hand, had tons of narrative, being a reminiscence theatre piece based on an interweaving collection of stories from local communities in Normandy and Sussex. Each story was told in a rather lovely sort of wooden open-sided confessional booth, with the simplest of props (a teapot, an umbrella) as accompaniment. I really wanted to like this – but somehow wasn’t as engaged as I should have been. Perhaps there are some shows that really do need the intimate holding space that an indoor venue provides? Mike Martin (of Martinez and Fabrega) has a new venture – 3 Monkey Productions. The premiere of The Shop gave us the blueprint for a very successful street show – but is not quite there yet. It’s the classic three-man clown set-up: here, barbers with no customers who spend the day listening to the local radio station. The predictable games with brooms, wigs and gowns turn more surreal as they get drawn into a ludicrous War of the Worlds radio-news scenario. The slapstick physical comedy is lacking in pace (at times the show needs some serious cutting and tidying – snip, snip, snip, lads!) but the relentless radio idea is a brilliant use of recorded sound, and there is some lovely object animation, including a crafty puppet-cat who wanders in and out of the action and a row of dancing hairdressing-heads.

The best-realised and most enjoyable daytime show that I saw at this year’s Streets of Brighton was Bash Street Theatre’s Frankenstein – A Comic Tale of Magic and Adventure, which has come a long way since I first saw it at the Garden of Delights in Manchester 2004. The action has been tightened up, so that we now have a well-paced mock-melodrama that brings the Frankenstein story into the context of a Victorian travelling sideshow. The centrepiece of the set is a sort of Caractacus Potts inventor’s windmill that buzzes, whirs and whizzes. There’s real magic – a sawn-up Zig-Zag lady (the lovely and nimble Jojo Pickering) and a sword-pierced Human Pincushion (the delightful and equally nimble Simon Pullum). These two play all the characters except for the hair-tossing Goth Dr Frankenstein (Russel Hurd). There’s oodles of exciting action and sackloads of grotesque humour – small children and adults alike were delighted by the sawing off of an audience member’s leg to provide a body part for the fiendish Dr F. After the exhausting search for a satisfying show, it was a relief to be able to sit down on the gross of Brighton’s Pavilion Gardens and enjoy a well-crafted, well-performed, funny and engaging street theatre show. Please can we have some more, sir?