“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.