Brighton Festival — Well the Fringe

Brighton, while also known as the home of Dina and Adrian, also had a thriving arts community. As a result, every year they put on a month-long festival called the Brighton Festival (how original!). It has evolved into a world-class place for plays, musicals, dance and all sorts of art to be shown. While this festival consists of a lot of high-brow type of art, a crazy cousin has shown up, calling itself the Brighton Fringe Festival. It consist of more of the alternative and experimental art and theater that England and the world have to offer. They co-exist at this point and just serve different audiences and tastes, thus expanding all that the month of May has to offer in Brighton.

Dina and Adrian are big fans of this festival. I believe Adrian has tickets to see 15 shows during the month of May (he’s got his own page of easy-to-digest reviews). Since I had a place to crash and some people with a lot of knowledge about the fun goings on down there, I’m trying to make a trip or two down there in May to see some shows. This weekend is a bank holiday (no work tomorrow!!), so I headed down on Saturday to see two shows. In this case, they were both Fringe Festival shows.

Now, the Fringe Festival has a mainstage in the middle of a square in Brighton. It’s called the UdderBelly:


It’s a lovely shade of purple and is actually in the form of a cow lying on its back, complete with udders (hence the pun). Here would be the head of the cow (you can enter through head or the ass — insert infantile jokes here):


Now, the UdderBelly, being the center of the Fringe Festival, has a sort of lively little center around it. There’s a pavilion that serves milkshakes, beer and a variety of food. As a result, it’s not just a big cow in the middle of a square. They’ve taken some pains to follow a theme. See if you can guess what it is:


(I totally nailed Dina about to attack the cow!)

Just in case you think it’s all about purple cows, note the beautiful fountain behind those two beautiful people:


They’ve got hippos and penguins and various other animals too. Never fear, they’ve only got a mild cow fetish.

OK, enough of the random remarks about the festival. Allow me to talk a little bit about the first show I saw: Bill Hicks: Slight Return. For those of you unaware of Bill Hicks, he was a comedian who died just as he was rising from cult status. His work had a anti-establishment slant and also had themes that focused on what might be considered vulgar to some people (ok, a lot of people). Anyway, he died in 1994 of cancer (as a heavy smoker, he managed not to die of lung cancer, but of pancreatic cancer). I first heard of him through a band I very much enjoy (Tool) and, more recently, found that Adrian loves him. As a result, I’ve also heard some of his old routines. Now, even in death, he’s achieved a heavy cult following. And a few years ago, a couple of people decided to write a play in which Bill Hicks came back from the dead to comment on all the fun things that have transpired since his death. The format is basically someone channeling Bill Hicks and giving one last stand-up performance. The actor playing him had his voice and mannerisms down very well. His material was quite good and alternatively funny and cringe-worthy, which was apt for Bill Hicks’ style. It was a little weird that someone had basically put together a show pretending to do someone else’s material but, if you got past that, it was quite enjoyable. One person in the audience, I believe with the help of quite a bit of beer, was not able to get past the premise, started heckling “Bill” and was escorted out. It actually made for a very funny ad-libbed moment (unless, of course, it was staged which would be a little odd). There were also a few other people in the audience who were not-quite-sober and that just added to the mood.

After the show, I experienced something that seems to be common in England. In the US, most bars serve some sort of food on top of their array of alcoholic beverages. In the UK, it seems as though tradition dictated that you ate food before going out binge drinking (so I’ve been told), so the need to serve food was not there. On the weekends, this tradition continues. On a Friday or Saturday, you pretty much expect to not find any food in any pub you enter. So we had to scour the area we were at for food before we hit the pubs. We hit one of two pubs, not really enjoying the vibe (mostly just too crowded with a few unpleasant folk) and stumbled into a pub that was also a time-warp. While all the other pubs consisted of 20 or 30 somethings, this pub, only block off the main strip we were on, had no one under 40 (well, maybe one or two). We opened the door and people sort of turned and stared. Meanwhile, a man with a guitar (which he played in only one song) was performing some version of karaoke and the decor was frozen in some long-forgotten time. We pondered leaving for a moment and then decided to at least have a pint. It was a good move. The people were a little odd, but pretty nice and it had the feel that everyone there had been coming to this pub every Saturday for years. Basically, it was a country pub in the middle of Brighton. Out of place, but fun to soak in. Oh yeah, Bass poured from a cask is much better than the US crap in a bottle.

Anyway, back to the culture. The next day (today actually!) dawned cold and overcast. But, we walked the sleep away by taking a stroll to a lovely little market that happens once a month around the corner from Dina and Adrian’s flat. It had a great variety of local produce, breads, juices, coffee, nuts, cheeses, beer and so on. I picked up some eggs and bread for the week (Carolyn got me a pasta maker for my birthday. Hopefully one of those eggs will go into my first batch!). After that it was on to our next show.

While the Bill Hicks show took place in the mainstage, there were venues all over the city hosting performances. Our next show was in a much more intimate setting, the Theatre Cella. It was basically a basement performance space that could hold 40-50 people under a nice cafe:


This performance was called Bite-Size: Short & Sweet. It’s basically a collection of 10 minute plays on a random array of themes and subjects. I believed it originates in Australia where the select/write/develop the plays and send it around to many arts festivals. It ranged from a romantic comedy to a sci-fi thriller with a whole lot of other ones in between. I found all 8 of the mini-shows to be excellent. They asked us to vote for our three favorite and I had trouble picking just three. It was also nice to see that, while I picked three, Dina and Adrian had their own three with almost no overlap. The writing was solid and the actors were very good (we were all impressed by the lead in the romantic comedy — it could have gone the way of a sappy Hollywood film, but he gave it a sense of believability that could be tough in a small venue). And, while it was a very minimal set, they did a lot with the space and lighting.

After my second helping of theatre, I headed back on a train to London. I have tomorrow off, which is very nice and I’m hoping to keep chipping away at the whole “I own nothing in London right now” problem. 🙂

5 Responses to “Brighton Festival — Well the Fringe”

  1. cowgirl Says:

    well now, that was a very thorough description of the weekend. good to know that i can erase it from my memory now that it’s been preserved here for all eternity… yep, forgotten already. here is adrian’s exciting blog- be sure you’re sitting down to read it (because most people use the computer standing up….?):

    glad you came up while- i mean whilst- the weather was still good. it’s horrible and cold and rainy today. enjoy your day off.

  2. matt Says:

    I shall add a link to the blog above. I had a coworker who liked to work standing up. But he was a little odd. Sort of like you, cowgirl. 😛

    It ain’t so nice here either. But I think the rain has stopped so I shall go off and do some shopping. It’s pasta makin’ time!

  3. spottygao Says:

    Hey cowgirl, less of the sarcasm – this is the very first morning of the brighton festival blog and already you are attempting to kick its head in. Please allow time for nurturing, with the help of CONSTRUCTIVE comment from others, if you don’t mind.

  4. Leaky Says:

    I miss my potato head!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. matt Says:

    Awwww, such sweet remarks Leaky! Come hop a plane and visit jolly old England. I swear I won’t make you go to the British Museum again 🙂