Thursday, May 08, 2008


Hooray! It’s May and the Brighton Festival is here.

Pictures being added to my Flickr site all the time:

Ah, where could be finer than Brighton during a sunny May? Last year’s Festival was a washout but this year is more than making up for it: the streets are buzzing, it’s t-shirt and shorts weather, and you can sit outside of an evening with an ale in a plastic glass (boo!) without freezing your arse off.

So, one week into the Festival.

The biggest disappointment of last year apart from the terminally shitty weather was the lack of the Speigeltent. It’s an elegant, decadent 1930s Austrian tent-cum-ballroom, a circular wooden construction lined with booths, stained glass and mirrors –hence the Spiegel bit – and topped off with a plush red velvet tented roof.

It’s just my ideal louche sort of hangout so I virtually lived there during 06’s Festival, so its absence last year was a severe disappointment. But it’s back! Well, at least one of them is back. There are a number of different Speigeltents knocking about the world, all with different managers and programmers, and this year’s one’s not looking as radical and outre as 06’s, but it’s still lovely to relax in a booth surrounded by fellow hedonists, flaneurs and epicureans.

Friday’s opening night was a bit thin. The can-can girls were great, really lively and brash, and I like the fact they’re all shapes and sizes and are clearly just “ordinary” gals who like to have fun, and they sure do.

The compere of the late evening show was just lame – being gay does not make you inherently hilarious, and the technical problems didn’t help the proceedings, so maybe he just had an off-night. One of the most bizarre acts was a man who climbed inside a giant balloon and bounced around the stage, popping his head in and out. Really odd, and one of those delights where you just end up scratching your head going “What?”

Ultimately a pretty tame night and I’m a tad underwhelmed by this year’s programming, but hey, we’re less than a week in so far, so that opinion will certainly change.

The biggest hype – and consequently biggest disaster – of last year was the Udderbelly. It’s a giant upside-down inflated purple cow plopped in the Old Steine, and last year it was rain- and windswept, freezing cold, corporate, with nasty scaffolding and seating, poor sound, a crappy stage and an entrance which made you fel like a cow being herded as you sloshed through the mud.

Well it’s back this year and I entered trepidatiously, but it looks like they’ve got it right. The weather helps of course, but this year they’ve got comfortable seating, ditched the scaffolding, improved the stage, sound and lighting, and the bar’s in a lovely multicoloured tent rather than a trailer, so it’s actually a pleasurable place to be. And I have to admit their programming is much more exciting than the Speigeltent’s.

I did the first radio broadcast from the Udderbelly for BBC SCR’s coverage on Monday evening, with live drumming on a bin and beatboxing from the amazing Aussies from the Tom-Tom Club, flamenco from Ricardo Garcia and song and cabaret from the outrageous WauWau Sisters. The Sisters do a spoof southern sisters country act schtick managed to do a song which punned on “country” to make it sound like “cunt”… ho dear, good start for the first show!

Unfortunately the WauWau Sisters were only doing 3 nights here, so Kath and I popped down to see their 9pm show and they were truly amazing. Rude, chaotic, running semi-naked around the (unfortunately small) audience, charming, alarming and impressively agile, with an amazing spinning trapeze act. I’ve seen more trapeze acts than I care to recall, so it takes a bit to impress me, and impressive they were. It’s just a pity that their run is so short, as I think word of mouth would have got around and started filling out the audience.

Le Scandal was a different matter. If you’ve seen La Clique at the Speigeltent in previous years or been to Coney Island, anyone promising bawdy burlesque and amazing acrobatics have a lot to live up to – which this largely failed to do. Yet another lame compere who couldn’t improvise and failed to engage the audience, a lamentable fire juggling act who spent more time picking his stick up from the floor, yawnable ariel work of people twiddling up and down strips of cloth and a strange sequence where some very gay-looking men rubbed their groins while a female trapeze artist swung around in a hammock.

The local house band perked things up by playing entertaining klezmer versions of Britney songs and others I can’t remember offhand, assisted by the audience joining in on kazoos, with gusto. The Evil Monkey act was genuinely startling but overall the show was tame, lacking edge and pizzazz, and failing to deliver to an audience with high expectations who’ve seen it all before.

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