The Brighton Festivals - Better Than Edinburgh?

22/05/2012 09:28 BST | Updated 20/07/2012 10:12 BST

Most people probably aren't aware that 'Festivals in Brighton' is England's largest annual arts festival. With over 700 events running throughout May, 'the Festivals' encompass Brighton Festival, Brighton Fringe, Artists Open Houses and HOUSE.


photo courtesy Paul Allen

I knew that Vanessa Redgrave was the guest director of the Brighton Festivals this year and that she followed in the footsteps of fine artists like Brian Eno and Anish Kapoor. And I was also aware that the Festival had the reputation of showing excellent work since its birth in 1967 when Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence Olivier and Yehudi Menuhin performed. Despite all that, I was surprised at the breadth, quality and low cost of the theatre and art on offer. Julian Caddy, the dynamic new director of Brighton Fringe, says Brighton is 'more democratic' than Edinburgh both because of the low cost to participate (£150) and for the reasonable ticket prices (many events are free or less than £10).


David Batchelor, Eyeball 10, photo courtesy Paul Allen

With four festivals plus the delights of our favourite British seaside town to enjoy, our three days were hectic to say the least. Our favourites ranged from high theatre to slapstick. On the visual arts side, we loved David Batchelor's colourful Brighton Palermo Remix in a fantastic Regency house on Brunswick Square. The artist created a site-specific installation using original lights and materials from the Palermo festival, thus tying the two seaside towns together. A retrospective of Batchelor's recent work, demonstrating his interest in found objects and colourful poundshop items, is at another Regency house nearby.


The Rest is Silence, photo courtesy Jim Stephenson

The Rest is Silence, dreamthinkspeak's interpretation of Hamlet is unmissable. If you don't see it in Brighton, it will be showing at Riverside Studios, London 12-23 June. Run, don't walk to book tickets to this! Commissioned by Brighton Festival with LIFT and the Royal Shakespeare Company, the production uses the original language of Shakespeare in a modern, minimalist setting - a warehouse where the audience stands in the middle of the space surrounded by the actors behind raised glass panels. The audience is forced to be continually on the move to follow the action in individually lit panels.

One of our Fringe favourites was Wired Theatre'sGone But Not Forgotten, in a small terrace house on 'Shakespeare Street'. The audience is literally on the set with the actors, guided from room to room as the narrative jumps from the past to the present, thus making the experience purely voyeuristic.


Faulty Towers - the Dining Experience, photo courtesy Paul Allen

As dedicated Fawlty Towers' fans, we had to see if Faulty Towers -the dining experience lived up to its claim as a 'pitch-perfect tribute' to the much-loved sitcom. We certainly weren't disappointed by this production that originated at the Adelaide Fringe 15 years ago. Many of the best gags from the show had us in stitches and we were impressed by the convincing performances by the actors who played Basil, Sybil and Manuel.



photos courtesy Paul Allen

While most of our meals were on the run between shows, we did have a great Japanese dinner at Fat Boy Slim's Oki-Nami (champagne cocktails with ginger are to die for) and brunch with local Sussex wines at a French bistro, Plateau. Another foodie highlight for me was the Linguine alla Marsigliese at the family-run Al Duomo.


Seafront facing artwork by Niaomh Looney, photo courtesy Paul Allen

We stayed at Nineteen, a cute B&B, minutes from the seafront and started each morning with a champagne breakfast.

Words Joanne Shurvell

Photos Paul Allen