Brighton Fringe has always had an international feel to it, with performers from across the world bringing their work to the Sussex coast. This year though sees 14 UK premieres taking place in Brighton from The Netherlands. In a partnership between Brighton Fringe and The Amsterdam Fringe, The Dutch Season offers a chance to view some of the very best cutting-edge work from The Netherlands.
Glen Pearce spoke to Amsterdam Fringe Director Aukje Verhoog to get a flavour of what Brighton audiences can expect.
Close neighbours across the North Sea, the UK and The Netherlands have been trading partners for centuries, yet cultural imports between the two countries have never been particularly high on the audience radar. That’s not to say though that work hasn’t been shared as Aukje Verhoog, newly appointed director of Amsterdam Fringe is keen to point out. “Over the last couple of years there has been quite an exchange of work between Amsterdam fringe and Brighton Fringe,” she explains. “We’ve shown work from Brighton under the banner of ‘Best of Fringe’ and a lot of our award winners have travelled to Brighton to show their work.”
This year, however, things have taken a more formal step, with the creation of a Dutch Season at Brighton Fringe. The season will feature 14 UK premieres of Dutch work in Brighton, in a partnership between Brighton Fringe, Amsterdam Fringe, The Dutch Embassy and The Dutch Performing Arts Fund.
Asking Verhoog to pick a favourite out of the lineup, however, isn’t an easy question. “It really is like asking a parent which one of their children is their favourite, so I will not say which is my favourite,” she laughs. “What I will say about the selection is you really get a good impression of the the kind of work you can see at Amsterdam Fringe.”
So does the selection have a signature style that reflects Dutch fringe theatre? “Dutch Fringe theatre is often quite artistic, quite experimental and lies between the genres,” Verhoog explains, “So there’s a lot of physical theatre like Macho Macho but also more comedic work in Wacht! by Hiske Eriks and then there is the really experimental stuff from 7090 and Bert Hana.”
For Verhoog the lineup is a great shop window for Dutch theatre. “Those are really great impressions of what the Amsterdam Fringe has to offer and really great artists that you don’t want to miss.”
The experimental is a theme that crops up regularly in discussion with Verhoog. Is that a deliberate intent of Amsterdam Fringe or a wider reflection on the difference in theatre in the two nations? “The theatre and arts scene in the Netherlands is a little bit different than in the UK,” she explains. “A big difference we have, compared to fringes like Brighton and Edinburgh, is that we do not show comedy.That does leave a lot more room for artistic experiment. There’s still a lot of fun and a lot of crazy but also a lot of performance art, installations and crossovers with the visual arts. It’s very contemporary a lot of the time.”
Aukje Verhoog joined Amsterdam Fringe as its new director in January of this year. How would she describe the festival to those unfamiliar with it? “Amsterdam fringe is perhaps best described as the little sister, the little artsy-fartsy sister of Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe,” she laughs. “We are only 11 days long, which is still a lot, with 70 groups. We show performance all over Amsterdam, so it’s a great opportunity not only to see works you may not normally come across but also to experience the city of Amsterdam.”
We have a lot of performances that take place in non-traditional venues, We have performances on rooftops, in saunas or outside, so it’s a big adventure!
Fringe-goers in Amsterdam though shouldn’t expect to spend all their time in conventional theatre spaces, as Verhoog explains. “We have a lot of performances that take place in non-traditional venues, We have performances on rooftops, in saunas or outside, so it’s a big adventure!”
The shows selected for Brighton have been chosen to be accessible for those who don’t speak Dutch, but does Verhoog doesn’t see language as a barrier to sharing more work. “Sometimes it’s down to language but sometimes has to do with cultural references but that might also be the exciting element in a work – how does it work in a different culture?” she explains. “ I think it’s something you have to look at for each production – do you want to translate it when it was originally Dutch spoken. That is the case for Daddy Day by Bert Hana. This was originally performed in Dutch but the narrative and content really translates in a European context so he chose to translate it into English and that performs very well.”
Verhoog hopes Brighton audiences will embrace the opportunity to feast on Dutch culture during the festival. “I hope they get inspired, they get enthusiastic, that they go in with an open mind and let themselves be amazed. These works take you on a journey you wouldn’t expect beforehand, they show you the world in a very different way and it is amazing to be invited to journey into that fantasy. I find it inspiring and I hope others find it the same.”
While she hopes Brighton audiences enjoy seeing Dutch theatre on their doorstep, Verhoog is also extending a welcome to those wishing to visit the Amsterdam Fringe. “First of all do come, please do,” she says. “Amsterdam Fringe, like many fringes, is best experienced if you are there for a couple of days and you see more than one or two shows to get the whole experience.”
As any good ambassador does, she’s proud of what her city can offer visitors. “Amsterdam is a great city to bike in and the performance take place across the whole city so you can both see a lot of inspiring works and encounter the city in a non-tourist way.” The Dutch are known as a practical nation and Verhoog ends on one bit of practical advice to would be Amsterdam fringe-goers. “Do book your hotel well in advance as it can be very expensive here!”
The Dutch Season at Brighton Fringe runs 18 May – 4 June 2017
For more information visit seasons.brightonfringe.org
Main image: Maartje Strijbis