Peter Roche takes a trip to Brighton Fringe, the weird and wonderful arts festival in Britain’s gay capital.
For the month of May, Brighton is transformed into a weird and wonderful delight. Running simultaneously is the Foodie Festival, Brighton Festival, and of chief interest to yours truly, the Brighton Fringe.
The second biggest arts festival in the UK (after the monumental Edinburgh fringe), but second biggest is more than big enough for all, even the most voracious culture vultures. The festival features 760 individual events, spread across 176 venues and totaling a whopping 3516 performances. The performances run the artistic gamut; from cabaret and drag, to one-man shows and piano recitals, there’s more than a little something for everyone.
Unlike Dublin Fringe, Brighton Fringe is an open festival, which means anybody can put a show on as long as they pay a fee. Brighton is able to accommodate this system due to the vast number of small theatres. Seriously, every second bar seems to have a theatre in the back or upstairs. Because there is so much on, events don’t seem to sell out as much as in Dublin, and the general modus operandi was to mooch around the festival areas and get recommendations from other punters or merely what catches your eye. This method didn’t let us down.
Our first show was a feminist re-imagining of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, where our watery heroine doesn’t surrender her voice to grow a pair of legs in order to be with her man, but rather to go see Lucky in concert. Queue; 90’s pop music, synchronised dancing, and jokes about Destiny’s child (poor Michelle).
Next up was a cabaret by Desmond O’Connor, And May the Devil Drag you Under, which fittingly was held in a church. O’Connor brilliantly hosts a sort of X-Factor style talent competition, where the audience are the judges, and the acts are performing for their eternal soul. One of the standout performers from O’Connor’s variety show was Lynn Ruth Miller (I won’t tell you what she does with her Tena Ladies), and so we booked tickets for her solo show the following day. Not Dead Yet is equal parts funny and touching, it’s Lynn Ruth’s own story of growing old but not growing up as we’re expected to. Those of you who watch Britain’s Got Talent may have had a taste of her already. The big name act for Sunday night was none other than Ireland’s own Camille O’Sullivan. Her romping show was much darker than previous incarnations, she kept the audience entranced like a witch with a brogue. Finally at the late hour of 10pm we wandered to St. Peter’s church to see Guruguru. This one-man show about a deformed clown’s search for happiness pulls no punches as he weaves in and out of the crowd while ranting and raving about philosophy, science and religion. Your reported found it to be a highlight of the performances he saw, however his partner had to leave after 10 minutes; called it divisive.
Brighton is a wonderful backdrop for an arts festival, the splendid regency buildings acting as a bulwark against the wind and spray from the sea, sheltering the seedy goings on along the pier. Apart from the festival there really is plenty to do in Brighton; ride the hurdy gurdies on the pier, cycle to the Seven Sisters or through the downs, or sample any of the wonderful cafes and bars (we particularly enjoyed Small Batch Coffee and The Fountainhead). The city is a wonderfully welcoming place, the small town atmosphere belies the fact that is is barely an hour to London.
The Brighton Fringe makes for a brilliant long weekend. It’s running all month; the perfect excuse to visit this exciting city.
More more information, visit Brighton Fringe.
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