England’s largest fringe arts festival, Brighton Fringe, is a glorious beast. It’s odd, experimental, tiring, exhilarating, eye opening and wonderfully funny, often all at the same time, sometimes in a single show.
I have covered the event for Reviews Hub since 2017 (this year as the Brighton Editor) and performed myself at several over the years. I wouldn’t want Brighton Fringe to become as big and unwieldy as Edinburgh Fringe, as Brighton has a nice buzz about it, being a third of the size on normal years, and has always had a welcoming village-like appeal to it. Even when it’s paired down, like this year had to be, you can find, and miss, many gems waiting to be discovered.
My approach to selecting shows is philosophically pragmatic; there are vast swathes of performances to choose from, never enough time to see everything and a finite number that can be watched on any given day before I become “show blind” and fatigued. One has to accept one’s limitations and book accordingly. It’s a sad fact that I will miss some brilliant shows. For the 2021 programme I decided to cover in person shows only, firstly to support those making the journey back to live performance and secondly to reduce the number of events to select from!
While I do my best to accommodate review requests, wherever possible, I never do too much research on the shows I’m going to see. This encourages a fresh eyed innocence to reviewing and hopefully means I will see happenings that I wouldn’t normally consider if I had over thought it. I am naturally drawn to theatre, comedy and movement pieces but also enjoy cabaret, film and the bizarre. In the Fringe it’s best to be “game for anything”.
It was lovely to see regular venues return with strong programming, including The Spiegeltent, Sweet Venues, The Warren, Rialto Theatre and the Brighton Open Air Theatre. Good venues are the backbone of the Fringe, giving artists their platform and nurturing talent.
The Warren got some gentle ribbing from performing comedian’s such as Angela Barnes, saying of the open air McElderry theatre: “Look, it’s the budget Globe, in corrugated iron”. And Marcel Lucont, during torrential rain at the same venue: “I know why they all died young in Shakespeare’s day”.
Some of the attending audience weren’t overly enamoured with the open air setting of The McElderry, as England’s dreary summer continued, or the alfresco feel of it’s sister venue, The Oil Shed. Yet, despite the criticism, The Warren team made a herculean effort to get their live events open and covid friendly and deserve all the praise in the world. They always have a high quality programme, some beautifully designed bar areas and a wonderful team of volunteers. They have been stalwarts of the Fringe for many years and have not disappointed with their continued support of the event in very difficult circumstances; I tip my hat to their dedication and devotion.
Sweet Venues also deserve an honorary mention. Running three venues over two sites this year they put on some great entertainment and as always, are thoroughly hospitable with it. Well done to JD and his small band.
From the start of the Fringe you could tell there was a strong desire from the year long house bound artists, to shed their covid shackles and perform. They were champing at the bit! “Back to the stage” fever had taken hold and the audience, as well as the acts, were loving it from the off.
I saw a plethora of fabulous female clowns, in various guises, in different shows, including the anarchic Elf Lyons, the riotous Siblings comedy duo, the hilariously bizarre Frankie Thompson and two graduates of Worcester University’s MA in touring theatre, Tisa Klicek and Celeste Ondeasz, who were a joy to watch and a fabulous breath of fresh air.
Cabaret made a strong showing in the Fringe, the love letter to Julie Andrews: Julie Madly Deeply, being my favourite. Top drawer performances also came from the pair performing Judy and Liza (tribute to Judy Garland and Liz Manelli) as well as the incomparable Cinebra who played two fading starlets of the silver screen, in Glenda and Rita.
Comedic silliness always attracts me and no finer exponent of nonsense is Jody Kamali; an anarchic performer who dances cheek to cheek with an ironing board at one stage.
Snippets of gold were also available in theatre performance and film. Alan Bennett’s play Lady in the Van was excellently produced by the Sarah Mann Company and Girl Code Theatre’s documentary about harassment of women in Brighton, Still Not Getting it, provided some of the more poignant moments of the Fringe.
It’s always a joy to represent The Reviews Hub at Brighton Fringe; the hours are long, the shows are plentiful and people are a delight. This year more than any other I have witnessed the catharsis that comes through performing. The Fringe has brought the well needed boost of togetherness and shared experience we have been searching for since the pandemic began and now, hopefully, begins to ease.
It is now that the arts and their accompanying audiences are needed more than ever. They are needed to keep us sane, to show us how to be together again and to feed the soul.
Being amongst all these fabulous performers has personally made me feel lighter, happier and healthier. Brighton Fringe 2021 has been an inspiration and a tonic; a feeling of joy I hope to keep in my heart all year long.
Image: DFPhotography /Boogie Shoes Silent Disco Walking Party