Brighton Festival 2017Public booking opens: Fri 24 Feb, 9am

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Andy Smith on writing and directing Summit

Andy Smith’s play Summit has its preview at Brighton Festival on 8 & 9 May. Here he gives an insight into the creative process.

Up to now, most of the theatre that I make has involved writing things for me to perform. I have always said that at some point I would like to write a work for other people, but I have never quite managed to find the opportunity to do it.

Then sometime in 2015 – influenced by a few things – an image appeared in my head of someone performing in sign, of someone just standing and performing a text in sign language. Someone doing something I don’t have the capacity to do.

In the same year someone wrote about how my work uses the space of the theatre as one of meeting. This chimed with conversations that I was having at the time about difference, difficulty, and diversity in the space of the theatre, as well as the wider world.

Soon enough these thoughts all started talking to each other, and they became the starting point for a new piece of work. Encouraged and supported by the team at Fuel, and after a week meeting and exploring how to work with in this way with a diverse group of people at HOME in Manchester (the most people I have ever worked with on an Andy Smith text), these ideas have become this play. With the help of Royal Conservatoire Scotland in Glasgow, some of the text is about to be translated from English into BSL and the piece will be performed integrating these different languages.

Summit is a new play that, in three different ways, tells the story of a meeting. A meeting that is held at a time of crisis. A meeting organised to deal with a potentially catastrophic event or set of events. It will preview on the 8th and 9th of May at The Brighton Festival and there will be three performers onstage – one signing, two speaking. The other delegates at this meeting are played or represented by the people who are sitting in the audience. For the first time ever for a piece of writing by me, this is where I will be.

Hope to see you there.

Summit will be at Brighton Festival on 8 and 9 May 2017. Andy Smith's The Preston Bill will also be at Brighton Festival on 10 May.

This is... Petina Gappah

Discover more about this outspoken prizewinning writer ahead of her talk this Brighton Festival (Sun 21 May)

On being labelled

“I’m not the voice of Zimbabwe; I can’t speak for every person in the country. I’m just a writer who is writing stories about Zim at the moment. I would like to be seen as a much more nuanced writer than just one who speaks truth to power. Plus, I don’t think terms like African writer or woman writer are helpful. It’s better just to focus on the content of the work.”

(from this 2015 interview)

On criticising NGOs in Zimbabwe

"I felt almost guilty about that because they are such an easy target – all these people who mean well but get it so awfully wrong! I am very cynical about the way Zimbabwe has become a project – it sometimes feels like the situation exists just so certain people can keep their jobs... One of the most abused job descriptions is that of “human rights defender” – we need to stop and ask, what is being defended, and what is not?"

On how her work as an international lawyer has influenced her writing

"...when I moved back to Zimbabwe in 2011 after years living in Geneva, I was amazed by the amount of space all the newspapers devoted to reporting crimes – both serious crimes and more opportunistic ones. It struck me that the criminal justice system links everyone together, from the top politicians to the street vendors – it cuts across the boundaries of race and class. So it was a theme that allowed me to build up a whole panorama of Zimbabwean society."

(from this 2016 interview)

On becoming a published author

"My first book, An Elegy for Easterly, was a collection of stories that sprung from a mini-life crisis. I had written all my life, I had just never shown anyone what I wrote, until 2006. That year, I woke up one day and panicked that, at 35, I might never achieve my dream of becoming a published author. So I forced myself to wake up early and write before I went to work. About 18 months later, I had a complete manuscript."

(from this 2016 column)

Petina will be discussing her works and writings on Sun 21 May, at Brighton & Hove High School, 3pm

5 mins with...Helen Oyeyemi

Writer Helen Oyeyemi whose recent short story collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours made waves among literary critics, answers our quick-fire questions ahead of her Brighton Festival event.

I knew I wanted to be a writer when…

I’m still waiting for the definitive moment. More often I have moments when I know I want to be a lawyer or a psychiatrist or a librarian or a proprietor of a tea parlour, &c &c.

The first book I ever bought was…

Oh, I used a book voucher but that still counts – it was a novelisation of one of the storylines from The Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles cartoon.

My favourite writer is…

A combination of approximately seventeen different favourite writers.

The last book I read was…

Chaucer’s The Assembly of Fowls. Recommended.

The proudest moment of my career to date was when…

I’ll get back to you on this one…

People would be surprised to learn that…

For the past four years or so, somebody has been graffitiing the name ‘Helen’ on walls all over Prague (I swear it isn’t me – though maybe that is the plot twist, that I’ve been doing this in my sleep.) Anyway, this person is still at it – I came across a new ‘Helen’ a few weeks ago.

Helen Oyeyemi is at Brighton and Hove High School on Saturday 20 May

Festival Hot Seat...The Big Song

The Big Song is a celebration of singing and its central role in the universe and our own civilisation by poet, actor, political activist and dramatist Heathcote Williams, with arrangement and musical direction by Kirsty Martin and narration by Roy Hutchins, who tells us more about the piece.

Can you tell us what your show is about?

The show celebrates song. Why do we sing and how did singing begin? The show looks at how the universe sings – the comets, the planets, gravitational waves... We look at birdsong in depth and demonstrate why it has such a pull on our senses. Prehistoric and Neolithic song-lines are excavated – and a question is raised as to whether the origins of civilisation itself, Stonehenge and the Pyramids for example, were literally ‘sung’ into place. Singing as a tool for social justice is evoked through the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Finally, the piece looks at the physiological changes that occur within us when we listen to music or when we sing and how music acts as a catalyst for the generation of oxytocin, a kind of ‘700 million year old designer drug that makes people smile at each other’.

How and where will the work be staged?

At Brighton Dome. They’ll be a hundred-person choir comprised of the Hullabaloo Community Quire, Raise the Roof and RISE Up Singing. This choir will be conducted by Kirsty Martin with percussion from Rosie Bergonzi. I’ll be narrating the text alongside a BSL interpreter.

Why should someone come and see your show?

Song is central to our identity and our purpose and yet we rarely get an opportunity to reflect and celebrate its very existence… so here’s that chance. The evening will bring together collective voices to explore the evolution of song and as such, it’s an emotional experience, primal even. Songs act as vehicles for sadness and pain, anger and joy and it’s likely that you’ll experience all of these emotions throughout the show. At the same time, you’ll be navigated through the story of The Big Song, by a writer whose ability to celebrate natural history (this is, if you like, the natural history of song) is second to none. Heathcote Williams’ adeptness in crystalizing complexity with elegant prose and delightfully potent images, is wonderful to hear in itself; when underscored and brought to life by a hundred voices singing for the sheer joy of it, the experience becomes even more extraordinary and unique.

Where did the idea and inspiration come from?

During my last show, another collaboration with Heathcote Williams, I started working with choral activist, Kirsty Martin, who provided choirs to illustrate how poetry has been turned into song – songs that have been instrumental in bringing about change and social justice. Both Heathcote and I became fascinated with the power of song and why people sing together. I suggested to Heathcote that this might be the starting point for a new show; a show with which we could work closely with choirs to illustrate, this time, the powerful effect that singing has on us all. Heathcote immersed himself in the subject and a few months later sent me through his thoughts - a paean to song. Once I had completed the stage adaptation, Kirsty devised and scored the text by drawing on her extensive knowledge of both contemporary and traditional songs from all over the world. The result is a hybrid fusion: powerful lyricism, underscored with a wonderful song cycle and brought to life by a glorious choir.

Why do you think it’s an important story to tell?

Our lives are a song cycle… lullabies are sung to us when we’re born, nursery rhymes teach us to clap and sing, and songs become integral to us finding our identity as adolescents. As we grow older we compile our own ‘desert island discs’, played at key moments in our lives and then also perhaps, at the end of our lives. We pass these songs on… but what is less well known is that the universe itself is, in a way, continually singing and that the cosmos has a ‘voice’. It beats through us at 7.83 hz and is known as The Schumann Resonance. Not being exposed to the ‘Earth’s heartbeat’ can unsettle us - astronauts needed Schumann Resonance Generators to be placed aboard spacecraft in order to prevent space sickness. With this cosmic beat pulsing around us all the time, it’s no wonder that songs and music are central to our existence and purpose, and that songs can unify us in a way that little else can. As Williams says, ‘When the world itself is out of joint and has dementia – singing can restore harmony.’ Life without song is hard to imagine – and this show seeks to explain why.

What sort of person is going to love this show?

The sort of person who has eclectic musical tastes. The sort of person who believes that art is for everyone, not just the few. The sort of person that delights in the artistic fusion that occurs when artists and participants passionately engage on a creative journey together. A free thinker. The sort of person who likes radical discourse which is emotionally and intellectually upfront and wears its heart on its sleeve. Lovers of song and choirs of course, but also lovers of natural history and the sky at night. People who love pre-history, politics and protest. People who want to sit back and hear a great story told with great songs. People who love to be surprised by our extraordinary universe - and want leave with a song in their heart.

What’s going to surprise people about this show?

The behaviour of sand dunes. Why Gorillas hum. The songs of Mickey the Singing Mouse of Devonport. Male Mexican free tailed bats. Mercury’s chirping. What happens when two black holes collide. The origin of amen. The extraordinary marsh warbler. A bird’s syrinx. How singing began. What the Latin word ‘cantare’ originally meant. The effect of singing to babies. The story of ANC freedom fighter Viyusile Mini. How songs can be a stealth weapon. The speed with which sound comes out of our mouths when we sing, and finally, the Suya’s unusual creation myth for the advent of song.

What does Brighton Festival mean to you?

Firstly, I’ve lived in Brighton for most of my life – so it’s always an exciting yearly event. In 1980 I was runner up in the Festival’s Opportunities for Young Playwrights competition; so aged 20 I had my first play produced by Brighton Festival. It was a significant moment for me; a moment that made my aspiration to work in the arts real for the first time. Since then, I’ve had a number of productions premiered at the Festival – most of them collaborations with Heathcote Williams (Whale Nation and The Poetry Army for example). To still be working for Brighton Festival and premiering work after 37 years feels like an achievement (actually, one that I haven’t thought of before writing this). Time flies. I suppose what’s great now, is that I’m able to share my excitement about performing for Brighton Festival with with so many others – in this instance a one hundred person choir, who have been an absolute joy to work with.

Do you have a favourite Festival moment?

A short while ago I was giving a foyer performance at Brighton’s Jubilee Library. After the reading a woman came up to me, saying that she recognised my voice. She asked if I had given a performance at Brighton Festival around 25 years ago… a piece about swimming with a wild dolphin off the coast of Ireland (Falling for A Dolphin, written by Heathcote). I said that I had, whereupon she told me about the impact that the show had had on her and how her life had changed, for the better, as a result (Heathcote’s writing often has this effect). It is, if you like, a post-festival favourite moment but it’s important because I’d like the choir to know that the show we’ll be performing could well have a profound and lasting effect on some our audience. Brighton Festival is a special festival, one that can and does change lives.

What are you most looking forward to in this year’s Brighton Festival programme?

Depart looks great. The choral element is directed by Kirsty Martin who, if she brings half the dynamism and energy to their choir as she has done for The Big Song, will make it worth going for that alone. It looks wonderfully atmospheric. It is set at Woodvale Cemetery at night; with aerialists, acrobats and video. It seeks to look ‘at the space between life and death’ – and yet it uses few words. After spending months immersed in the elegant text of The Big Song… this will be just the show for me to see, a complementary show to our offering, and yet linked by the evocative and ethereal sounds of a choir in full voice.

The Big Song is at Brighton Dome on 22 May

Festival Hot Seat...Endings

Australian artist Tamara Saulwick brings Endings to Brighton Festival for its UK premiere. Part soundscape, part theatre piece, she tells us more about the show

Can you tell us what your show is about?

In some ways it’s about the strangeness and ordinariness of life ending. But it’s also about the deep connection we share with loved ones and the desire to maintain that connection in some way, even after those loved ones are no longer with us.

How and where will the work be staged?

Endings is both a sound work and a theatre or performance work; an interplay between live voice and song, and prerecorded voices that crackle into life on old portable 1960s record players and reel-to-reel players. We work with lots of recorded interviews that have been cut up and are replayed on stage using vinyl records and magnetic tape. So it is kind of like a radio documentary that’s been wrenched from the airwaves, then reconstituted and refracted through old technology and live performance. It’s being performed at The Old Market

Why should someone come and see your show?

You could come for Paddy Mann’s songs alone! Paddy has the voice of an angel and writes unbelievably beautiful lyrics and melodies. He works with me onstage and has written songs specifically for the piece, which are threaded into the overall sound design.

Despite the subject matter, or perhaps because of it, people seem to find this work really very life-affirming. I’ve always been interested in the things that connect us to one another … what we share and how we can see ourselves in the experience of others. In the words of one reviewer, ‘Its subject matter is difficult by default and impossible to hear without grafting onto it your own fears and faces. But it is uplifting too, and comforting, offering a sense that death is an experience shared with the living, even if only momentarily.’

Where did the idea and inspiration come from?

It’s always hard to pinpoint the beginning point of an idea. But I was interested in this theme of ‘endings’ and I had this sound and image in my mind of the needle turning around and around at the end of a vinyl record. That sound alone carries so many associations and resonances.

Why do you think it’s an important story to tell?

One of the things I love about theatre is that we sit together in the dark to attend to what occurs onstage collectively. In that moment we are a community of sorts, connected through shared stories and experiences. Death is something that touches us all but is so rarely talked about with any candour. Endings creates a kind of collective holding place for this most inevitable of shared experiences—a place within which multiple stories and perspectives can be voiced and evoked and heard in the company of others.

What sort of person is going to love this show?

To be honest I don’t think there is a ‘type’ of person who will like or dislike the show. The content has the capacity to resonate with anyone, and in that sense is very accessible. The form of the work is relatively unconventional, I suppose. So people who are interested in contemporary performance, sound, and finding new ways to bring ideas to the stage should enjoy watching the way this work unfolds.

What’s going to surprise people about this show?

The way it is staged and how we work with light. It’s pretty special.

What does Brighton Festival mean to you? Do you have a favourite Festival moment?

I’m coming from Australia to the Festival for the first time. So I’m looking forward to experiencing my favourite Festival moment …

What are you most looking forward to in this year’s Brighton Festival programme?

That’s a tough question. There is so much on! But I have to say that after seeing Kate Tempest perform in Australia, I’m really looking forward to checking out her work again. She’s an inspiring artist.

Endings is at The Old Market 9 to 13 May

Assistant Producer Rob Jones on FK Alexander's (I Could Go On Singing) Over the Rainbow

Assistant Producer Rob Jones, one of our Brighton Festival programming team, caught FK Alexander’s performance (I Could Go On Singing) Over the Rainbow at Edinburgh Fringe last year, and says Brighton Festival audiences are in for a treat.

Firstly, wow. I Had no idea what to expect with this show as I had only heard through a friend that this was an artist not to be missed. I’d never come across FK Alexander, a Glasgow based performance artist, equally mysterious as she is prolific.

We were taken down to the basement in Summerhall where we received an admission ticket along with simple instruction on how the piece would work. We were led to a room where the FK stood centrally hands on hips staring straight ahead with a band behind her, poised and ready – there was also a massive X marked in the middle of the floor of the room. The piece begins when an audience member stands on the X.

I should also mention that there is a thick wall of sound as the enter the room which engulfs you, it feels like the cross between a drone and static white noise, it is loud but not abrasive and it puts you into an almost meditative state. It’s a loving sound. Once on the X, FK takes that audience member’s admission ticket and cues a recording of Judy Garland’s final performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow at Carnegie hall. This is the final recording of Garland singing this song.

FK then embarks on a routine where she dons costume items travels to the X to hold hands with the audience member and begins to sing the song in perfect unison with Judy’s vocals through this wall of static sound. What happens here is very unusual, the performance becomes part one-to-one and part to a wider audience. FK serenades the audience member never breaking gaze through the entire song, this ends with an intense strobe and drone and then the whole thing starts over with a new audience member taking their place on the X.

Something really tender and beautiful happens within this piece as time goes on; participants have different reactions to the serenade and the majority are deeply moved. You get this real sense of willing for things to be better and wanting things to change, the audience are allowed to move around so you can watch from the performer’s and the audience member’s perspective. There’s also something terribly sad within the context of the song which has so much history and followed Judy Garland throughout her entire life, at first it feels hopeful blissful and romantic and then with further examination it feels like a haunting, cyclical elegy for the role of the artist. This is an extremely powerful piece of performance which works on many different levels for audience members all powerfully driven by FK’s resilience.

This festival FK Alexander will be bringing her haunting powerful performance to the Spire to share with the people of Brighton. This is unlike anything we have had at Brighton Festival before and is something that I would urge everyone to experience as it really is something special – words don’t do it justice, it creates an incredible feeling of closeness, wonder and sadness combined. Everyone can get something from this and should.

(I Could Go On Singing) Over the Rainbow is at The Spire 26-28 May

5 minutes with... Mica Levi

Brighton Festival 2017 is hosting three events with Mica Levi: a film screening of Under The Skin accompanied by a live orchestra performing Mica Levi's intoxicating and beautiful music; Kate Tempest with Mica Levi & Orchestrate - Let Them Eat Chaos: Rearranged and The Unfilmables. Here, Mica faces a quickfire Q&A and tells us about her musical style, her fears and her best musical joke...

What do you regard as your greatest artistic achievement?

I broke in and climbed up a city building under construction with my friends as a teen, to the scaffolding’s 11th floor – that was freedom. I could tell you my worst more easily.

What do you fear?

Boredom, constant sadness, arthritis (fear itself).

What’s the most unusual performance you’ve been a part of?

My band and I played a song of ours with about 40 school kids in a church once – that was insane, it was way better than the original.

What was the first recording you ever bought?

Probably the Beatles second hand <3. But new music was 'Comin’ Atcha!' by Cleopatra (an all girl group from Birmingham, 1998).

Describe your compositional style in three words.

Bored, sad, arthritis.

If you could have any other profession, what would it be?

A pro-footballer, pro-racing driver or pro-jungle trawler. Sorry that’s three!

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

My Dad probably.

Tell us your best musical joke.

What’s the difference between the first desk of the violas and the second? A semi tone.

To read the full story please visit the London Sinfonietta’s blog.

5 minutes with... Daniel Morden

Leading storytellers Daniel Morden and Hugh Lupton will tell the story of Odysseus’ ten-year journey from Troy, a terrific adventure story shot through with moments of insight, humour and horror, in a Brighton Festival event for both young people and adults.

I knew I wanted to be a performer when… a tie company transformed my junior school hall into a jungle by saying, ‘We're in a jungle!’

My first public performance took place at… The King's Stomach Ache, Llanyrafon Primary School, 1970. No, I wasn't the king. I was a tree.

The first book I ever bought was… Silly Verse for Kids - Spike Milligan

The last book I read was… Seven Miles of Steel Thistles by Katherine Langrish. Articles on fairy tale and myth from her blog of the same name.

The proudest moment of my career to date was when… my kids ask to come to my shows.

If I wasn’t performing, I’d probably be… teaching. A noble profession.

People would be surprised to learn that… The Odyssey is a gripping adventure story.

The Odyssey is at Sallis Benney Theatre on 13 May.

Festival Hot Seat... Now You See It

Antonia Grove, artistic director of Brighton-based dance theatre company Probe, tells us about her brand new solo work, co-directed with Sue MacLaine.

Can you tell us what your show is about?

Developing strategies for coping with family members, difficult scenarios, and life in general! 

Finding a way of making myself visible and finding a way to disappear. 

Interrogating facts and searching for the truth. 

Questioning what I might be missing. 

Channeling frustration and finding an expression through the liberation of movement and speaking out loud.

How and where will the work be staged?

It’s me, for an hour, in a big and beautifully lit theatre space.

It’s taking place at the wonderful Attenborough Centre, at the University of Sussex on 14 May 7.30pm.

Why should someone come and see your show?

Because its authentic, emotionally charged and physically impressive. Because it communicates through story-telling and dance so the work can be felt and experienced on many different levels.

Because the lighting and sound score create a rich, visceral, and exciting environment to be in.

Where did the idea and inspiration come from?

The idea came from my head. From things I felt needed to be said. About experiences I felt others could relate to.

Why do you think it’s an important story to tell?

I think it’s so important that we continue to make unique, impassioned and challenging work, no matter how hard that is, and no matter how much we think we need to escape from the challenges of life.

What sort of person is going to love this show?

Most importantly anyone who likes to see and hear real life experiences being untangled and interrogated.

For anyone who has felt invisible or wanted to disappear themselves.

For people with questions, people who love dance and people who love theatre.

I would like to think anyone of any age and background would enjoy this show, although it’s probably best understood above the age of 12.

What’s going to surprise people about this show?

You might be surprised by what you see… or what you don’t see… I don’t want to give anything away yet ;)

It’s both poignant and uplifting, so don’t miss it!

What does Brighton Festival mean to you?

It’s my city, it’s where art in the city comes to life. It’s about being on the streets, being at a gig, in a theatre, talking about great work and having new experiences.

Do you have a favourite Festival moment?

I have been part of the festival as a company or as a performer for the last 5 years. All those experiences have been extremely different and memorable, especially when you have a full house at a show you are particularly proud of, I’ve had a few of those moments.

What are you most looking forward to in this year’s Brighton Festival programme?

Some great female works this year.

  • Vincent Dance Theatre, Virgin Territory, A film installation at Onca Gallery which I am a performer in.
  • The Hiccup Project, May-We-Go-Round? at The Spire, a great venue and a very entertaining work I was dramaturg for.
  • Sharon Duggal presenting her fantastic new book The Handsworth Times at Sallis Benney Theatre
  • Kate Tempest, can’t wait to see her in action again!

Also, Theo Clinkard, whom Probe was originally founded with, has his big new commission, This Bright Field, at Brighton Dome Concert Hall.

Now You See It is at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA) on 14 May.

Festival Hot Seat… No Dogs, No Indians

Writer Siddhartha Bose gives the low-down on his new play No Dogs, No Indians, which has its world premiere at Brighton Festival

How and where will the work be staged?

No Dogs, No Indians will be staged at The Spire, Eastern Road on 17-18 May. Four actors will play multiple characters across three time zones in India: the 1930s, the late 70s, and 2017.

Why should someone come and see your show?

No Dogs, No Indians explores the legacy of British colonialism in India, and will commemorate the 70th anniversary of independence. It tells the story of a forgotten female revolutionary, Pritilata Waddedar — I like to think of her as a sort of Malcolm X to Gandhi’s Martin Luther King. The play also examines the fictional story of Shyamal Chatterjee, who is a relic of the Raj era — a ‘brown sahib’ who loves, and models himself on, British culture. Finally, the play will also transport you to contemporary India, a nation that aspires to be a world power while simultaneously dealing with the ghosts of its past.

Where did the idea and inspiration come from?

This play has been gestating for a few years. For a while I've wanted to write a historical, Raj-era play. I was particularly interested in forgotten stories from the Anglo-Indian encounter. If you look at any film or TV series that looks at this period — from David Lean’s Passage to India to Channel 4’s Indian Summers — you will find symbols of exclusion, in particular, the sign, ‘No Dogs, No Indians’ or ‘Dogs and Indians not allowed’ outside any British club in colonial India. I wanted to respond to the power of these words, and to explore how Indians felt, and responded to, such a provocation. And then, almost by accident, I found Pritilata Waddedar’s story...

Why do you think it’s an important story to tell?

2017 is the 70th anniversary of Indian independence (and the UK-India Year of Culture). Despite this, I think there is a certain level of historical amnesia about the realities and complexities of colonialism and its legacies. In No Dogs, No Indians I'm aiming to help us remember, explore and engage. I think it’s a timely play which tells an important story (or two!) in a poetic way.

What sort of person is going to love this show?

I hope No Dogs, No Indians will appeal to a broad audience, from theatre-goers to people interested in history. The play asks a lot of questions about cultural appropriation and power that are particularly current at the moment.

What’s going to surprise people about this show?

The play revolves around the premise of neglected stories and forgotten characters. In that sense alone, there will be much to surprise the audience. Stylistically, the play will be innovative and fresh as well.

What does Brighton Festival mean to you? Do you have a favourite Festival moment?

Brighton Festival is one of the world’s leading and most daring arts festivals, and I am honoured that No Dogs, No Indians has been commissioned by, and will receive its world premiere, here. I can't wait to find out what audiences think of it.

What are you most looking forward to in this year’s Brighton Festival programme?

There’s so much to choose from but Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field looks amazing.

No Dogs, No Indians is at The Spire 17-18 May.