NoFit State Circus, Bianco

The Bangkok Ladyboys have taken up residence on Grand Parade, the Famous Spiegel Garden is sparkling away on the Old Steine, there’s a crashed planeapparently made out of withies and tissue paper sticking out of the ground next to St Peter’s church, a shipping container or two on the seafront, Brighton’s taxi drivers getting into gear for their annual collective denial of the very existence of The Basement arts centre (Where love? Never ’eard of it’), not to mention the ‘shared space’ of New Road awash with afternoon drinkers trying hard to avoid the onslaught of kamikaze truck driving and persistent flyering…

It is very evidently May, and as I’m sure you know – even if you live far, far away – Brighton in May means festival month. That’s ‘festival’ as in theBrighton Festival, a curated festival of international work from many disciplines; the Brighton Fringe, an uncurated hotch-potch of stuff, many of it in pop-up venues, so rather like a mini-Edinburgh Fringe); The Open House festival of art in people’s front rooms, and the edgier and newer Open House offspring HOUSE; the Charleston Festival, in Virginia Woolf’s old gaffe; the Tate on Tour’s Artist Rooms (featuring naughty-but-nice Jeff Koons); and the Great Escape music festival. Plus, the things that people just do in May, because it’s festival month…

Yes, I know how you feel: exhausted just reading all this. We are four days in, and already I’m ready to put my feet up with a nice cup of tea for the rest of the month. But no, on we go.

‘What do you recommend?’ asked a friend on Facebook a few minutes ago. Oh Lord, I don’t know. I recommend hiding under a duvet for a month with a torch and a good book? No, no – I don’t mean it, I love it all, really I do…

Anyway, here goes with a quick whip-through. A highly subjective and idiosyncratic round-up. OK, disclaimer over – here goes.

First to say that elsewhere on this site we’ve got an extensive news/preview item on the main Brighton Festival programme. I’d just add that reviews are going up as and when, so do check – for example, see my review of the big site responsive commission for 2013, Peter Reder’s The Contents of a House. The only other thing I will say here is that the Brighton Festival programme (as in selection of works) is a good and interesting mix, but the Brighton Festival programme (as in the paper thing with information in it) is a dog’s dinner – terribly confusing, horrid layout, awkward daily diary – and the worst sin of all, the listings under artforms at the front and the page numbers don’t match up in many cases, so it’s almost impossible to find what you are looking for. I have actually thrown it across the room in disgust a number of times in the past few weeks… There, I feel better now.

The Fringe frightens me. It’s not as bad as Edinburgh, but that great mass of stuff out there all fighting for our attention… Aaaaaggghhhhh! One way through it is to go to venues you trust – oases of curation within the great open desert of good, bad, and sometimes downright ugly performance work out there. The Nightingale is as good a place as any to start. Winners of Star of the Fringe and Most Groundbreaking Act awards for their off-site extravaganza Dip Your Toes in 2012, the venue are this year keeping things indoors, with a programme that cuts across divides of new writing and physical/visual performance. Although there is one off-site piece, Red Herring’s Speakers’ Corner: A Platform For You, which is very much what it says on the can. (25 May, on New Road as part of Fringe City.) To reserve your slot, email Red Herring.

Two Nightingale shows that cross the new writing/physical theatre divide are Caroline Horton’s Mess, a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe 2012, which kicked off the Nightingale’s May programme; and Tunnel, written by Mags Chalcraft and directed by Tanushka Marah of Company:Collisions which runs till 12 May, promising ‘poetry and physicality’ to tell its story of a Gaza Strip smuggler stuck in a tunnel with a surfboarder and a goat… other highlights include Boogaloo Stu’s Pop Magic (featuring the Two Wrongies), David Sheppeard’s Holocene (about volcanoes: quote Sheppeard: ‘I love volcanoes’), and Lecoq trained Clout Theatre’s How a Man Crumbled (another Ed Fringe 2012 hit, shortlisted for a Total Theatre Award). There are two very different puppetry companies featured: Annie Brooks’ Colossal Crumbs with Fish Pie, and Touched Theatre with Blue. I’ve seen excerpts from both of these shows at The Nightingale’s year-round new puppetry night, Punched, and on the basis of what was seen there, would urge you to get your tickets now!

Talking of Punched: this ‘puppetry night for grown-ups’ moves (just for May) to a new venue, The Old Market (TOM). A large stage and a big auditorium with lots of room for audience members might be a bit of a risk for producers Touched Theatre, but Punched have been selling out three-night runs at The Nightingale this year, so it should pay off. The Best of Punched night (26 May) will feature some of the juiciest bits from the last year – including work by Matt Rudkin of Inconvenient Spoof fame, Annie Brooks from Colossal Crumbs, and Isobel Smith of Grist to the Mill – not to mention Philip Suggs and his Toy Theatre, Foz Foster and his animated musical instruments, and of course Touched Theatre themselves (a company led by Darren East and Total Theatre’s very own Beccy Smith). We are also promised a few brand-new titbits thrown in for good measure.

TOM is still finding its feet as a venue, and in May is splitting itself between Brighton Festival and Fringe presentations. Included in its frankly worryingly varied May programme is Les Enfants Terribles with The Trench, and an off-site guide-tour type show by TrailBlaze called Someone Else’s Shoes that sounds interesting but could be wonderful or awful, who knows? And it’s also host to numerous music-theatre and cabaret events, so worth checking them out. Ditto The Warren, which last year had a very strong and interesting programme, including the marvellous Translunar Paradise by Theatre Ad Infinitum, for which it won a Best Venue of the Fringe award – not that I got to anything at The Warren in 2012, but never mind – perhaps this year! Warren highlights for May 2013 include My Robot Heart by Molly Naylor, Theatre Temoin’s The Fantasist, Sparkle and Dark’s The Girl with No Heart, Smoking Apples’ The Wordcatcher, and The Girl with Iron Claws by The Wrong Crowd. Nice to see so many puppetry/visual theatre shows programmed, Warren!

Other venues worth checking out include The Marlborough, which punches bigger than its weight with appearances by Bette Bourne and Neil Bartlett amongst other treats, amongst which are a staging of The Secret Garden that looks interesting, and the acclaimed Young Vic production Bitch Boxer.

If circus is your bent, then you are probably best off looking at the main festival programme – except that NoFitState’s Bianco_Turning Savage is part of the Fringe – they are in residence in their own silver spaceship tent on Hove Lawns from 14 May to 2 June. What’s so great about NoFitState (previous winners of a Total Theatre Award for physical/visual performance) is the opportunity to get really close-up to the 20 or so circus performers plus live band who will no doubt be swinging and honking and twirling all around us as we promenade throughout. Also on the Fringe circus front is a beautiful show I saw last year by Feral Theatre called Triptych, featuring three interwoven tales from an aerialist, a shadow puppeteer, and a spoken-word storyteller, staged most lovingly in the Preston Manor old church (right next door to Peter Reder’s (Contents of a) House.  Read about Triptych in last year’s Brighton Fringe round-up here.

There’s also circus within a cabaret context at many venues, not least the The Spiegel Garden (run by The Famous Spiegeltent, but for Spiegel anoraks, this is their second tent on-site, the Moulin Rouge  big sister is back home in Australia). La Clique returns (although many of its original famed stars have set up their own thing, La Soiree, elsewhere – it remains to be seen what the new lot are like!), and Spiegel favourites like Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen and The Ragroof Players (vested interest, yes yes – I know!) who are there on Sundays throughout May with their famous glamorous Tea Dances. The Spiegeltent are one of many venues who are hosting both Brighton Festival and Fringe shows – which is slightly confusing, I find, but maybe that’s just me.

Talking of programmes that sit between fences, the HOUSE programme 2013 – which started as a kind of alternative programming of domestic spaces for more cutting edge work within the Open House programme – is this year staying both out of houses (except the Regency Town House, which doesn’t count as it isn’t a real lived in domestic space) firmly in the contemporary visual arts camp. Some things (like those shipping containers, featuring an audio-visual piece called Aria by Emma Critchley) look interesting  but sadly, no wonderful cross-artform performative thingies like the Hangover Square installation or Sue McLaine’s Still Life, which were two highlights of last year’s programme. And the Regency Town House show by Mariele Neudecker is listed as a Brighton Festival and HOUSE co-commission. Does this matter? I somehow feel a bit cheated – all these different festivals and organisations are getting funding to put on work, so personally I’d rather they did that, not kind of shared it… I’d like to really feel the taste and touch of each individual festival curator.

Is that enough? What else can I mention? Hang on, I’ll just have a glance at my Facebook ‘events’. Oh dear – so, so many. Here’s a selection: Horlicks and Armageddon, featuring ‘electronic music, automata and archives’ from Sarah Angliss of Spacedog fame (at the Old Police Cell Museum); 50 Shades of Suit, being fifty Situationist performances by the legendary Dave Suit (Caxton Arms); a Double-Header of solo performances by Adriano Fettuccini and the Karavan Ensemble’s Marion Deprez at the Lord Nelson; an interactive game by Root Experience, with very little information about what or when but maybe the answer is here; and all sorts of fantastic goings-on at Jane Bom Bane’s café, including an interactive tribute to the crossword puzzle (which has its centenary in 2013), called 20 Across 5 Down.

Right, that is surely enough – perhaps too much – information? Can I go back to bed now please? See you in June!

Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer working in theatre, dance, live art and street arts. Under her alter-ego Dorothy’s Shoes she creates performance work that both honours and usurps the traditions of popular dance and theatre, and plays with the relationship between performer and audience. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She is also co-director of street theatre/dance company The Ragroof Players.

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