After the events of 2020 forced Brighton Festival to cancel their ‘Imagine Nation’ themed event for the first time in the festival’s 53 year history in 2020, Brighton Festival is back.
The award winning writer Lemn Sissay has returned as guest director, but the theme for 2021 has now transformed to ‘care’, reflecting on a year Sissay describes as: “incredibly challenging for so many people and in so many different ways. We say the arts bring people together but we also mean that through the wonder of the arts our minds and hearts can come together.”
As the first UK city to launch a multi-arts festival since lockdown, the question is exactly how those minds and hearts will be able to come together. Brighton Festival has hedged their bets, planning both outdoors and online events from 1st May. However, the programming from 17th May is hoping we’ll follow the government’s roadmap and be able to safely bring on stage events back again.
From Brighton Festival’s 2021 programme of nearly 100 events and shows, we’ve selected our top picks.
East Midlands based theatre company New Perspectives have continue to innovate throughout lockdown, with a Zoom adaption of their Edinburgh Fringe hit The Boss of It All, as well as performances over the telephone and stories told through postcards. Now, for Brighton Festival, they have brought a digital installation called House Mother Normal, based on the 1970s novel by BS Johnson. This avant-garde spoken-word interpretation will be available online, as well as in a site specific installation on Dukes Lane.
Lockdown has been an opportunity for many to explore their local area, and plenty of Brighton Festival’s programme gives audiences a chance to gain a different perspective on the city.
Rider Spoke, the sell-out show from experimental artist group Blast Theory, has been shown in 20 cities worldwide, but is now making its return to Brighton. A cycling based audio adventure, you are invited to listen to recordings through a smartphone attached to your handlebars. The recordings aim to help make the familiar seem unfamiliar again, as you look for good places to hide and reacquaint yourself with the pleasure of being lost. Don’t have a bike of your own? The performance is supported by BTN BikeShare, who can provide a bike free of charge. And if you’re unable to cycle, Rider Spoke has also been tested for use by audiences with diverse access needs, so just get in touch for recommendations to suit your needs.
HERSTORY is another city-wide audio storytelling experience, this time giving voice to stories of Brighton women and their experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. Listen for free via the listening hubs, or scan QR codes with your smartphone in Hangleton, Moulsecoomb, Whitehawk and Central Brighton.
If music is more your thing, then Lemonade: Music on the Move lets you listen to exclusively composed songs, hidden across Brighton. All inspired by the Festival theme of ‘Care’, the music is composed by local, emerging and international talents. To participate, you just need to download the Lemonade app and start listening.
Shoreham Port has become the backdrop for an otherworldly light installation by award winning artist Ray Lee. Points of Departure guides visitors through a trial of large-scale kinetic sound and light sculpture. This immersive experience is the first time Shoreham Port has hosted a major art installation, and promises to transform your impression of this industrial side of town.
If you’ve never had your face drawn by a robot before, Robot Selfie gives you the chance to change that. Become part of a massive mural on the side of Brighton Met College, by taking a selfie and then watching the AI wall-drawing robot artistically interpret it into a line drawing.
Missing in-person comedy? Three time Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee Josie Long is bringing her humorous take on bringing up a baby during a global pandemic, and hopes to make you feel optimistic for the future. Join her in person at Brighton Dome for Tender, her most critically-acclaimed show yet.
Another in person event at the Dome is Liminal, performed for one night only by the black bearded diva La Gateau Chocolat. Billed as a return to live art after a year in absentia, this specially curated song cycle promises to reveal the artist and reflect on the turmoil and change of the past year. Experience the cabaret artist’s performance in person, or choose to watch the event live streamed.
The Spire is one of Brighton’s most beautiful and haunting venues: a deconsecrated church on the edge of Kemptown. Its latest commission will be The Candle Project is a free installation by artist Abigail Conway that promises to be “an ode to resilience, a celebration of shadow and light, an ancient ritual for our times”. Participants will make their own tapered candle and cast words inside, which will then later be revealed once the lit candle starts to melt away in a lighting ceremony held at the end of the week.
Two of the country’s most beloved authors are hosting online events at Brighton Festival. Michael Rosen is an author of over 100 books, including the classic We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, an activist, and a poet. After being hospitalised last year with Covid-19, he has also become one of the country’s highest profile survivors of this virus. No stranger to Brighton Festival, as a previous Guest Director, Rosen will be joined online by Guardian journalist Hannah Azieb Pool to share stories and celebrate his 75th birthday.
Dame Jacqueline Wilson, perhaps most famous for her creation Tracy Beaker, is also joining the Festival for an online event to talk about her new book The Runaway Girls, set in Victorian London. After her Victorian era book Hetty Feather became a best seller and was also adapted for TV, Wilson has since set several of her books in that period, and will be discussing her new characters Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher, alongside her creative process and how she got started in her career as a prolific author.
Festival Director Lemn Sissay grew up without a family. Now he wants to learn more about your family experience, and asks you to Tell Me Something About Family. To participate, simply submit your thoughts on his website. Each submitted experience lights up a point on a world map, creating a global record of the ins and outs of what it’s really like to be a part of a family. Dozens of people around the world have already submitted photos, memories, thoughts, quotes and tributes.
Brighton Festival has now been running for a week. Let us know what you’ve seen and loved by tweeting us @broadwaybaby.