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Brighton Fringe 2017: A local festival on a global scale

From a psychedelic wander through the 1970s to performances in beach huts, there’s plenty to explore at Brighton Fringe 2017

“There’s a phrase that people here like to use, and it’s ‘very Brighton’,” explains Julian Caddy, Brighton Fringe’s managing director, in relation to a show returning for 2017 called Silent Disco Walking Tours with Guru Dudu. This sees participants in headphones strutting around the town dancing to Staying Alive and the like (pictured), much to the amazement and amusement of locals. “That one’s definitely very Brighton,” he says.

You could say much the same thing of the festival at large. While it may trail a distant second in the UK to its spiritual cousin the Edinburgh Fringe in terms of size – around 1000 shows to Edinburgh’s more than 3,000, and around 500,000 attendees to Edinburgh’s almost 2.5 million – the Brighton Fringe has other qualities which make it unique for an open-access celebration of the performing arts on such a scale.

For instance, the fact that more than half of all the performers come from the Brighton and Hove area, a percentage far outstripping its bigger counterpart. That’s literally very Brighton.

“The time of year in which it takes place means a lot more of the audiences are local too,” says Caddy. “Around 60 per cent of audiences are local in Brighton.
So you’ve got a very local feel to it but with a very national and international flavour. There are a lot of shows coming from foreign countries. And there’s a growing contingent of people coming from across the UK as well.”

Highlights in 2017 will include the Brighton Fringe Dutch Season, a series of work from the Netherlands supported by the Embassy of the Netherlands and the Dutch Performing Arts Fund, bringing more than 14 pieces of work originally performed at the Amsterdam Fringe over the past five years. There’ll be a UK premiere of Rob van Vuuren’s horror-comedy Dangled, which won the Cape Town Fringe Festival’s Audience Choice Award.

Elsewhere, there’ll be 320 comedy shows from names including fiercely provocative Scottish stand-up and magician Jerry Sadowitz, winner of the 2016 Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer Scott Gibson, and up-and-comers including Samantha Baines, Tez Ilyas, Sophie Willan and Zach Zucker.

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And, of course, one of the major stars of the festival will be the town of Brighton itself. “Every fringe is unique in that it reflects the environment in which it finds itself,” says Caddy. “And what’s great about the fringe festival model is, wherever you go in the world, they make that model feel very much their own because there’s a lot of site-specific work that happens across the city that could only ever happen in that place.

Every fringe is unique in that it reflects the environment in which it finds itself

“I think that’s what makes Brighton Fringe unique – because it’s by the sea and there’s all sorts of events that take place in beach huts and along the seaside and underneath the pier. In gardens and parks and in and around the pavilion and stuff like that. And there are some great shows which involve touring and walking around the city.”

He refers specifically to the return for a second consecutive year of the hugely popular promenade play HIP, subtitled Trip of Brighton: A Psychedelic Wander, which wends it way through the streets of 1970s Brighton in the footsteps of real-life Brightonian Anne Clarke, based on her lost diaries and letters, as discovered by squatter Jolie Booth.

“This year she’s doing the piece in the streets of Brighton, taking you to places that Anne Clark lived and worked and enjoyed her time,” Caddy says. “It’s both unique as a piece of performance, and also in the sense that you couldn’t do it anywhere else.

“I also quite like the ones that happen inside your house,” he continues. “You basically book the artist to come to your house to perform or put on whatever it is that they’re doing. It could just be in your front room. It’s like the Deliveroo of fringe performance – you sit and be lazy and the performer comes to you. I think that sounds absolutely brilliant.”

The Big Issue is proud to be media partner for Brighton Fringe, which runs from May 5 to June 4

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