Puppets, Power and a Discarded Pizza Box: A round up of one reviewer’s Brighton Fringe
Throwing down the gauntlet in a question and answer session for the ambitious Multimedia Theatre: Astra, was director and designer Raven Kaliana. It seemed fitting she was staring out into extremely bright spotlights, trying to shield her eyes. She had the look of one lone human being standing on a big stage holding onto a microphone, swaddled as it was in a brightly coloured sanitised sheath, but her manner was defiant. “We need to come together and start talking about the world we want,” she said. And what more fitting a place for this discussion than the Brighton Fringe?
This year’s theatrical fringe feast has made us gasp, laugh and cry. It has floored us. It has wormed into our wounds searching for the shrapnel. It has placed a hand upon our shoulders and whispered in our ears: “I know.”
We have been given a lecture by Mother Earth, purged the sins of Everyman and seen the world as a discarded pizza box. We have met technology ready to talk, to improvise, to take over. We have taken trips into the distant future, witnessed our divided destinies and watched a surprising number of puppets dance their tiny socks off.
Even after the long period of stifling stage silence, we have still seen fringe show after fringe show bravely grappling with the pressing matters of the present, the past and the future; expressing the personal, political and rarely pointless. Many of these shows have been made in isolation but still they have managed to speak to one another on this beast of a bill that is the Brighton Fringe.
Adaptations of classics have found something fresh to offer for our times, and stood proudly alongside new works. Veins transporting vital themes have run between them, sharing their life blood.
Undoubtedly two of the stand out shows from this year’s festival embody this process beautifully. No doubt initially seeming a juxtaposition, are Lachlan Werner’s seductive Voices of Evil, and J.D.Henshaw’s powerful Jekyl and Hyde: a One Woman Show. Two very differently handled performances, both outstanding. By appearing a stone’s throw from one another on the schedule they become much more than a sum of their individual parts. Werner may seem an unlikely modern day Robert Louis Stevenson, but his show perfectly shines a spotlight on his demons and sees him evolutionarily embrace everything he can be. It brings to mind a quote from Cheryl Strayed: “You can’t fake the core. The truth that lives there will eventually win out. It’s a God we must obey, a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees. It asks eternally: will you do it later or will you do it now?”
These ideas echoed throughout this reviewer’s fringe experience as many more shows explored the futility of burying that which feels hard to face. Bold theatre makers and performers have reclaimed territory this year by focusing on the once suppressed stories of the objectified, the hidden and the oppressed. Other shows to wrestle with the unruly truth of toxic masculinity were Sandy, S.O.E. and The Burning of a Sicilian Whore. All profound, thought-provoking pieces of theatre which explore the treatment of women and the feminine. Addressing vital topics for our times, alongside those of power, abuse, co-dependency, self-sacrifice and control.
Many theatrical shows aspired to make the personal political and express that which seems barely utterable. Some beautifully succeeded. Undeniably the strongest recurring theme of all was that of the climate crisis. Shows such as Motherload!, 0.0031% (Plastic and Chicken Bones) and Everyman punch to the gut asking the tough questions about reproductive rights, the right to govern, and the right to freewill, even when exercising them proves destructive. Whereas shows
Multimedia Theatre: Astra, The Time Machine and Doggerland take a gentler, more hypnotic approach to storytelling through puppetry, maps and marker pen. The main themes coming out of the theatrical Fringe experience have been: How do we tolerate each other? How do we treat each other? How do we reintroduce, reclaim and embrace the ‘other’? How do we heal the damage? How do we do differently? How do we come together and do what needs to be done to repair our broken home? Our fractured burning world.
The gravitas of these important theatrical works have sat beside lighter shows, reminding us how crucial laughter is to keep us going through the heavy times we live. Fabulous improvised performances have us marvelling at the ingenuity and resourcefulness of humans. After Dusk -The Improvised Twilight Zone, Happily Never After, Murder on the Improvised Express, Extra Topping’s Comedy Showcase and Hotel Michelle: even these joyful shows are not immune to the wider themes. They have included greedy murderous diamonds, the fatal consequences of financial betrayal, dystopian futures and the cost of idleness. They have gifted laughter thick and fast, while simultaneously demonstrating how creative, collaborative and spontaneous people can
be at their best.
Whether shows have been designed to move us, make us squirm or tickle our funny bone, those in Brighton Fringe 2022 have undoubtedly brought out performers who care a great deal. The future has been a preoccupation of this festival. Over the 23 shows this reviewer has seen, the question that has come up time and time again is: what will our future be to behold? Not just what will it look like but what will we make it?
Because as cycles of abuse depicted in the striking play Sandy, show us: this mess may not be our individual fault, but it is our responsibility. Can we break the pattern of neglect, enabling and destruction?
This Brighton Fringe has shown us we are willing, we are capable, we can do hard things. It has asked us to what lengths will we go to, to write a different story? And when? Because time will not wait. Will we do it later or will we do it now?
The final words of this reviewer’s Fringe experience are spoken by the 19th Century time travelling inventor played by Mark Finbow in his mesmerising adaptation of The Time Machine; he says “I hope your futures are kind.” This reviewer hopes to hell, higher waters and the pizza box, we will make it so.