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On the Road to Brighton

Posted on 19 October 2011 by Ellen Carr

Brighton: typical British seaside location or a city that buzzes with its own theatrical life? Although a conventional tourist picture may show little to suggest Brighton’s independent creativity, its residents know different. Every night is show night in Brighton, but to really experience what this city has to offer you need to become more of an unconventional tourist.

Follow a typical tourist map of Brighton and you’ll find yourself at the Brighton Dome and Grade II listed Theatre Royal. Both are attractive buildings offering a good selection of high quality shows, but they don’t necessarily pulse with the beat of creativity that can be felt throughout this city. The Dome does offer a programme of dance, concerts and theatre in its three venues but if you really want to find the creative heart of Brighton you need to be a bit more adventurous. As Philippa Vadafari, Artistic Director of Brighton based company Bandbazi, suggests, you need to look in “the less obvious and odd places”. Brighton in the month of May is teeming with creative opportunities as the whole city becomes a theatrical playground and the Brighton Festival takes over. No need to hunt for it – all types of theatre in all kinds of venues are right there for the taking. After experiencing this, the theatrical life of the city may seem relatively quiet, posing the question: is Brighton just one big receiving house?

The existence and work of such local companies as Bandbazi suggests not. Bandbazi’s circus theatre is a prime example of Brighton’s strong theatrical pulse that fills the city with life. It’s about community, diversity and playful experimentation. Brighton actually has the largest amount of working creatives of any city in England, a fact that makes a great place to be. James Hamilton, Artistic Director of Brighton’s Casual Violence! Comedy, describes it as “a creative training ground”. Bandbazi’s inclusive youth circus group is just one example of the vast amount of community arts projects taking place across the city. Visit Brighton on any weekend and there’s guaranteed to be something going on, be it at the library, in the park or on the streets. Young people are – as Vadafari says -  “spoiled for choice” with projects to get involved with and Bandbazi alone has collaborated with local schools, run a refugee week cabaret and a youth photography competition. All in one year.

A downside to having such a dense creative population is, in Vadafari’s opinion, that there are too many people attempting to make work in Brighton and this makes it a challenging place to be: “It’s hard to experiment here as you’re always under someone’s watchful eye and may not get away with making mistakes”. “Challenging” is creative Brighton in a word. Working creatively here can be hard, but work is made that will subvert your expectations and push your tastes, both as creator and audience member, in unexpected directions.

Brighton is not just a creative playground in May. Someone can always be found playing and on any given night you can see a piece of straight theatre; cabaret; an aerial performance; a comedy show; performance art or top it all off by becoming a performer yourself in one of Brighton’s many theatrical club nights. Trailer Trash hosted at Komedia takes a different theme every time it runs – this time it’s David Lynch – and mixes film and live performances to create a truly different, if slightly bizarre, night.

If clubs aren’t your thing then you can always go the pub. The “uniquely twisted humour” of Casual Violence! can regularly be found in the Marlborough Theatre, an intimate 60-seat venue above one of Brighton’s oldest pubs with rumours of excessive debauchery and tunnels leading to the Pavilion. Other similar venues can be found dotted across the city; Upstairs at Three and Ten is a particularly renowned award-winning fringe theatre, host to the Brighton Comedy Fringe and the recipient of rave reviews from the likes of Edward Bond. Here you can see a range of new work, often with a particular focus on comedy. But it’s when you head underground that Brighton’s creative pulse gets really strong.

The Basement has two performance spaces and in these it nurtures experimental and boundary-pushing talent. In this subterranean space the meaning of the artistic underground has not been forgotten and the venue is often host to challenging contemporary performances. The supported artists programme offers promising companies or individuals two years of administrative and production support, as well as professional development and mentoring. You may need to be creatively fit to work in Brighton’s challenging arena, but there is plenty of training to get you ready for it.

Hamilton says Brighton is a friendly and open place to make work and a “good place to start developing an identity”. It’s the community atmosphere that really shines through in a city that loves an excuse to have a festival, bringing its streets to life and people together. On 29 October the city remains open all night for the annual White Night. If you haven’t experienced creative Brighton before, this is a great time to do so. As you watch a burlesque artist perform her final stunt you realise that Brighton is a provocative place to be. It’s a city where people bare all in order to find their true artistic identity and where high competition provokes daring work. The creative residents of Brighton are easily found when you know where to look, and they’re always ready to play.

Bandbazi’s current production Mind Walking is at Brighton Dome at 7:30pm on 2 and 3 of November. For more information, visit the website here.

For information about Casual Violence’s upcoming antics visit the website here.

Brighton’s annual White Night takes place on Saturday 29th October. For more information about this free festival, visit the website here.

Image credits (in order): Ellen Carr; Bandbazi; Casual Violence! Comedy.

Ellen Carr

Ellen Carr

Ellen is Artistic Director of Witness Theatre, a company she established after graduating from the University of Sussex in 2011. Ellen writes, directs and produces for Witness Theatre and spends the rest of her time doing more writing. She is currently writing her own blog witnesstoexperience daily, contributes regular features to One Stop Arts and can also be found writing the occasional screenplay.

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