Record-breaking 50th Brighton Festival comes to a dazzling conclusion
The three week celebration of the arts was the most successful in its history with more people engaging with the festival, both as audiences and participants, and more tickets sold than ever before.
Drawing inspiration from Brighton Festival’s origins as a celebration of the new and the avant-garde, as well as Guest Director Laurie Anderson’s own multidisciplinary career, the 2016 programme featured the highest number of commissions, co-commissions, exclusives and premieres to date, by some of the most innovative national and international artists the world over: from the UK premiere of Anderson’s own Music for Dogs, a concert specially developed for canine ears to the world premiere of Minefield by acclaimed Argentinian theatre-maker Lola Arias, developed with and performed by veterans of the Falklands conflict.
Laurie Anderson: "I'm so happy to have served as Guest Director of Brighton Festival in its historic 50th year. I have been at the Brighton Festival a few times now and it’s always been fun. I always feel like I’m part of the town and that’s a crazy feeling because at many festivals maybe only theatre people come…. but here everybody comes. I was really struck by that."
The Festival’s biggest talking point was Nutkhut's Dr Blighty; an ambitious, large-scale, immersive outdoor experience co-commissioned in partnership with Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, which highlighted the story of wounded Indian soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during the First World War. Ending each night with a spectacular light display using projection-mapping, Dr Blighty captivated audiences and critics alike. With audiences reaching almost 50,000 over its five day run, it set the city and social media abuzz. A video clip of the projections went viral, attracting over 500,000 views and accolades such as ‘spectacular’, ‘incredible’, ‘unique’ and ‘best festival event ever’.
At the heart of the 50th programme was the theme of ‘home’, with an abundance of work both about Brighton and by some of the artists who make the city their home. Highlights included The Complete Deaths, a re-enactment of every onstage death from the plays of Shakespeare from Brighton-based artistic powerhouses Spymonkey and Tim Crouch; Digging for Shakespeare - Marc Rees’ site-specific homage to 19th Century Brighton eccentric and world-renowned Shakespearean scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps; Blast Theory & Hydrocracker’s immersive undercover police drama Operation Black Antler and specially-commissioned film Brighton: Symphony of a City, screened to a new orchestral score by Ed Hughes.
Brighton Festival 2016 also explored universal issues and ideas around home, via new work such as experimental composer and musician Yuval Avital’s potent and thought-provoking new work, Fuga Perpetua, which reflected the stories of refugees; and the UK premiere of Berlin’s Zvizdal, a filmic portrait of an elderly couple’s solitude in the region affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
From the annual Children’s Parade on the opening weekend featuring 5000 participants from schools and community groups from across the region, to Onca’s FutureGazers, which asked school pupils to imagine the city in 50 years’ time, to the city-wide City Reads and Young City Reads produced in partnership with Collected Works, Brighton Festival 2016 also saw a record number of community-focussed events throughout the programme with participants of all ages and from all walks of life. And it wasn’t just the humans – 50 dogs found themselves immortalised on a mural on Kensington Street painted by Brighton-based artist and illustrator Sinna One in homage to Anderson’s own dog-oriented events.
Anderson continues: "I think Brighton is really a one-of-a-kind festival. First of all because it’s very sophisticated in terms of what experimental art it brings in but it’s very inclusive in other ways. I can’t really think of another festival that has that broad a base so I would have to say it’s unique.”
Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Festival says: “From over-50s company Three Score Dance’s performance of Lea Anderson’s work Tall Tales at the West Pier, to Giddy Brighton’s intergenerational encounter between students from Longhill High School and men and women in their 70s and 80s reflecting on their teenage selves, the 50th Brighton Festival has been a wonderful celebration of our community. We’ve also had more people engaging with the festival, both as audiences and participants, than ever before."
This year’s Festival has once again been a triumph of partnership working, made possible through collaborations with many major organisations across the city and beyond including Lighthouse, Fabrica, HOUSE, University of Brighton, University of Sussex, Onca Gallery, Theatre Royal Brighton, Without Walls, LIFT and 14-18NOW amongst others. 2016 also saw the highest number of shows yet live-streamed to audiences around the world for free, thanks to the on-going partnership with City College Brighton and Hove. Still available to view on brightonfestival.org, highlights include stand-up from Alexei Sayle, magical a cappella singing from choir Vox Luminis and thought-provoking debate Let’s Talk about Death.
2016 also saw Brighton Festival work with Guardian Live in a special partnership to deliver the Books and Debate programme with an impressive line-up of writers and commentators that included a panel debate on the forthcoming EU Referendum and a visit from former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis as well as appearances from an Orange Prize winner (Lionel Shriver) and two Booker Prize winners (Marlon James and Howard Jacobson). Brighton Festival 2016 also saw the return of Caravan, a three-day industry showcase of the best new theatre from across England, which this year featured eight performances open to the public.
Sponsorship and corporate support has been critical to our success this year. New and returning sponsors and supporters include Rampion Offshore Wind, University of Sussex, Gatwick Airport, Brighton & Sussex Medical School, Class of Their Own, Riverford Organic Farmers, Hamptons International, ZSTa, Nutshell Construction, SELITS, GM Building, Griffith Smith Farrington Webb LLP and The Big Lemon.
Andrew Comben continues: "Artist and musician Laurie Anderson, as Guest Director, has been a fitting figurehead for this special milestone having been experimenting, creating and challenging audiences all over the world for almost as long as Brighton Festival has existed. She also told some beautiful and unforgettable stories. In fact, in helping us put together this year’s festival, themed around home and place, Laurie wanted us to help everyone tell their own stories and to focus on some of the people whose stories are less often heard. That we’ve seen such wonderful examples of that during Brighton Festival is something I believe the whole city can be very, very proud of. Here’s to the next 50 years!”