At 10am this morning the full programme for the Brighton Festival was revealed, and Bjournal were lucky enough to attend the launch. Brighton Festival is the largest and most established curated annual multi-arts festival in England and is this year celebrating its 50th Anniversary. The Guest Director this year is experimental artist and musician Laurie Anderson, of which the Chief Executive Andrew Comben said this morning “she was always at the top of our list for Guest Directorship but for this year, our fiftieth year, it seemed even more important. She has been a practicing artist pretty much since this festival existed and she has been at the forefront of the Avant Garde and the experimental and if the festival can remain true to its original intentions and explore new avenues in art then there’s no one better to do that with than Laurie Anderson”.
Unfortunately, Anderson is performing in Brazil so was unable to be at the event, though she did send a video. In the video Anderson talks about the theme of the festival, Home. She said “Perhaps it’s because I’m a working musician and often on the road, the idea of home is appealing. It’s also a great idea for a festival, trying to find out who you are…the Brighton Festival has a real art party feel to it, so I guess I love the chance to meet other artists…I’m really looking forward to it.”
“We’ll be doing a concert for dogs” She continued “and I’m so curious as to who will show up. We’ll be playing things that are sort of in their range, although they hear well across the spectrum so we’ll see what happens. We’ll be screening my film “Heart of a Dog”, it’s full of stories about how you make a story…it’s really about love”.
Heart of a Dog is an Oscar nominated film that sees Anderson reflect on love, language and death, all inspired by the affection she had for Lolabelle, her pet Rat Terrier. We at the launch were very lucky to see a clip of the movie, and I thoroughly recommend you see it, it’s obscure, funny and extremely unique. There will also be the UK premier of Lou Reed Drones, an installation of her late husband’s guitars and amps in feedback mode which she describes as “kind of as close to Lou’s music as we can get these days”.
This year Brighton Festival will celebrate its relationship with the unique, energetic and creative city of Brighton but will also consider universal issues and ideas around home, our communities and places of safety. Experimental composer and musician Yuval Avital is also brining a new show to the festival, titled Fuga Perpetua. Comben said “Avital has worked with refugees and NGOs and has created a piece that really reflects on the refugee crisis”. Another highlight includes work from Argentinian artist Lola Arias which has been developed with and performed by veterans of the Falklands conflict.
There will be a series of special commissions to celebrate the rich diversity of home-grown artists and companies. One show in particular caught Bjournal’s eye and that is the The Complete Deaths which is a re-enactment of every onstage death from Brighton-based artistic powerhouses Spymonkey and Tim Crouch. When discussing the show, they said “this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death so it felt even more appropriate to try this at the festival this year.
There are 75 on stage deaths in the works of William Shakespeare and we’re going to try to do them in two hours’ maximum. We’re also exploring the grander narrative, so how we traditionally talk about Shakespeare and modernity, how we think contemporarily talk about Shakespeare”. Stella is a theatrical love letter to one half of the infamous Victorian cross-dressing duo Fanny and Stella by Brighton based playwright Neil Bartlett.
The entire Royal Pavilion Estate is playing host to Dr. Blighty this year at the Brighton Festival which is an ‘ambitious, large-scale, immersive outdoor experience which highlights the untold story of wounded Indian soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during World War One’. Between 1914 and 1916, over 2000 Indian soldiers wounded on the Western Front were brought to a temporary hospital housed in Brighton’s Royal Pavilion Estate. Nutkhut have collaborated with the creative team that brought us the Tower of London poppies, Dr Blighty recalls this part of Brighton’s history.
The Royal Pavilion Gardens will host a dreamlike environment of immersive installations, soundscapes and theatrical interludes. When talking about the exhibition, Ajay Chhabra, the Artistic Director said “fifty years ago my mother came to London and made England her home, fifty years my father came to England and made it his home. 100 years before 12,000 young Muslim, Hindu and Sikh soldiers made Brighton their home, albeit a temporary home. Dr Blighty is about our shared histories but also about our shared vulnerabilities. For eighteen months the soldiers were here in temporary hospitals about the city…I grew up seeing myself in the hundreds of sepia images within weeks of the soldiers arriving.
These images are in the Pavilion and are distributed all over the web. They were more than just beautiful images they were staged, used as propaganda, they were used for recruitment. As the war progressed, as winter arrived in 1914 it became clear that the war needed more men and where were these men going to come from? Well they were going to come from the Empire. 1.5 million soldiers from the Indian sub-continent and some returned, some were patched up in Brighton and returned to the battlefront and some remained, cremated on the South Downs overlooking Brighton, buried in a Muslim graveyard in Woking. This story is very important for everyone. For us, we’d always felt that this story was told, but it hadn’t come to life. This was our opportunity to bring this story to life, to inject a voice and emotion and feeling into these two dimensional sepia pictures of Indian men with brown eyes staring at us. It’s not just about death and the past, it’s a celebration”.
The Brighton Festival is also working with Guardian Live this year to deliver the Books and Debate programme with a series of events including talks from Yanis Varoufakis, Lionel Shriver, Marlon James and Mark Haddon. Something that will particularly stand out, mainly because of its relevance, is The EU Referendum Debate. Join a panel of Guardian writers, including Brighton Festival Chair Polly Toynbee to analyse and discuss both sides of the EU Referendum debate. There will also be an evening with the 2015 Man Booker prize winner Marlon James. His book, A Brief History of Seven Killings has been described by the New York Times as a ‘Tarantino remake of The Harder They Come…sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex’.
Of course, the Brighton Festival has something for everyone and there are a number of family events taking place across the course of the festival. Young City Reads will be taking place where young story-lovers are invited to read and discuss Hamish and the World Stoppers by Danny Wallace. There will also be a talk by master storyteller Michael Morpurgo in which he will discuss his previous work and hear him talk about his latest book, An Eagle in the Snow, the story of the man who could have stopped World War Two before it even began.
The Brighton Festival has become one of the city’s most enduring symbols of inventiveness and celebration. Its original intentions as set out by the first Director Sir Ian Hunter were “to stimulate townsfolk and visitors into taking a new look at the arts and to give them the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture where the serious and the apparently flippant ride side by side”. There are so many amazing things going on this year at the Brighton Festival and we have only touched upon a few of them. You can pick up the programme at the Brighton Dome, which includes all events as well as booking details.
feature image: Sean Kelly