It may be small in scale and a little obscure, but the ten-day PULSE Festival at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre has a rich, eclectic range of shows which bring its loyal, almost cult-like audiences back every year. This year the focus is on works in progress and scratches from unfinished shows, with the second day of the festival featuring the awarding of the inaugural Suitcase Prize for the best performance which could be carried by public transport. PULSE producer Laura Norman explained, “We were looking for inspiring, bold and adventurous ideas – just ones that you can take with you on the bus.”
This focus on creating work which is both environmentally and economically sustainable produces some innovative and strikingly diverse responses. Out of Chaos borrows a table and chair from the venue for The Flying Roast Goose, and relies on physical theatre and puppetry to tell the story of a Cantonese chef and her goose trying to survive the 1941 Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. The hilarious Figs in Wigs’ Leftovers attempts to break the world record for eating peas with a cocktail stick in three minutes against a backdrop of an unfinished dance routine. The company initially envisioned using a fridge-freezer on stage, but downsized to a more portable blue cool box to transport their vegetable props. Keeping things simple, Hannah Nicklin’s A Conversation with My Father uses the contents of the rucksack she takes on protests to explore modern policing and standing up for what you believe in.
The greatest strength of PULSE is that the old cliché “there’s something for everyone” rings absolutely true. Saturday 1 June featured a series of scratch sessions and works in progress, with audience members strongly encouraged to give feedback on new work: for example, Toot’s interactive Be Here Now which reminisces about Oasis and “music you can hold”, and an extract from Snuff Box Theatre’s compelling The Altitude Brothers, which gives the Russian perspective of the Space Race through vodka, comradeship and courage in the face of the unknown. Angry buzzing hoovers and a bicycle illustrate the struggle between domestic life and feminism in Iran and Europe in the surreal Domestic Labour: A Study in Love, while Francesca Millican-Slater’s warm, engaging personality shone through in her solo show about a beloved 70s flat, The Forensics Of A Flat And Other Stories. Next up was Family Day, packed with imaginative children’s shows such as the dark fairytale of a girl in love with a bear, The Girl With The Iron Claws, Daniel Bye’s The Six O’Clock News which responds to the big news issues of the day, and Talking Birds’s intimate three minute performances experienced inside a giant metal whale.
The line-up for the rest of the festival includes a performance of Victoria Melody’s Major Tom which considers our obsession with fame and looks through beauty pageants and dog shows, and The Forest and the Field, an immersive, intriguing invitation to reflect on the nature of theatre and how it might respond to the social and cultural challenges of the future. The festival closes with Ursula Martinez’s My Stories, Your Emails which promises to combine stand-up comedy, live art and character comedy to explore what happens when your striptease act ends up online and strangers start sending you extraordinary emails. If these don’t appeal there’s still plenty more PULSE performances left to see, with shows running until June 8, and with so much variety I guarantee you’ll find something you like.
The PULSE Festival runs from Thursday 30 May until Saturday 8 June at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich. For more information and to book tickets, visit the New Wolsey Theatre website.