Streets of Brighton Brighton Festival

Review in Issue 11-2 | Summer 1999

Streets of Brighton is part of the National Street Arts Festival – which immediately raises the issue of definitions. Are we talking about art in public spaces or street entertainment? Definitions matter, because, despite the constant reassurances that street arts is an inclusive term, performers are still expected to provide light-hearted trivia for the passerby.

Most of the performances in the festival contained the usual elements associated with street arts: zany costumes, cheerful music, physical comedy and pastiche of popular culture. Had it been sunny, we would have enjoyed it all immensely. The cold and drizzling rain forced the audience into a more critical mode. A performance needs to be more than mildly entertaining to keep people standing still in these conditions.

Karen McBride and Barclay McKay's The Wrong Tackle managed it. A thought-provoking and disturbing tale of a sailor's trouble at sea, combining corde lisse, dance and verbal storytelling, this was a site-specific performance set in and around Brighton's fishing museum. I also enjoyed Amy Rose and Erika Peto's Golden Gates, a real-life Victorian toy theatre animated by angels. The Neighbourhood Watch – 20 metre-high inflatables of Salvador and Gala Dali – were the best of the promenade pieces that I saw, and Desperate Men deserve a mention for their nightmare human horse costumes.

Bouge-de-là presented Evolution: Body, which instead of being an outdoor version of the indoor show of the same name, turned out to be a different performance altogether. I found it less engaging, although some of the visual images were haunting – in particular a large baby floating against the blue night sky. By contrast, Givropolis by French company Les Alamas Givres was the zaniest, most colourful and fastest-moving piece of street theatre I have ever seen, a mad hybrid of 40s Film Noir and Eurotrash. A complete city comes to life within the confines of a metal-walled town just twelve-foot square. The company creates its entire population with an extraordinary number of costume changes and a clever transformation of the metal box into different living spaces.

It was very entertaining but was it art? I feel like a traitor to my own cause for liking the wacky, trashy French show best of all.

This article in the magazine

Issue 11-2
p. 23