Children's Parade Brighton Festival 2016

Brighton Festival 2023: Programme of arts events unveiled

 Brighton Festival programme highlights

Festival takes place Sat 6 – Sun 28 May

Celebrating community and collaboration, Brighton Festival is returning to venues across the city. This year it is taking place on Sat 6 – Sun 28 May. The largest annual curated multi-arts festival in England welcomes the critically acclaimed musician, producer, DJ and broadcaster Nabihah Iqbal as Guest Director. 

From reworkings of an Elizabethan stage play to evoking a rainforest in the middle of the city. Brighton Festival brings together a diverse and captivating range of productions from almost every artform imaginable. This year will also see something of a celebration, as the historic Corn Exchange finally reopens after its loving restoration – bringing with it a brand-new look to the Brighton Dome complex. 

Groundswell_ Brighton Festival 2023_ Credit Keith Tucker

“Collaboration is an essential part of Brighton Festival,” Andrew Comben, Brighton Dome’s Chief Executive, tells me.

“The Festival often involves working with a really wide range of partners. From artists and performers – from around the country and internationally – to community organisations, venues, and local businesses. These partnerships allow the Festival to showcase a diverse range of work and events, engage with different audiences and communities. They create a truly unique festival experience.” Nabihah Iqbal’s instinctive and collaborative approach to her tenure as the festival’s Guest Director is symbolised by the theme of ‘Gather Round’. It will bring artists and communities together and making space for an eclectic mix of ideas.

Since 2009, Brighton Festival has attracted inspiring and internationally significant Guest Directors who bring cohesion to the artistic programme. The inaugural appointment was Anish Kapoor and has subsequently included prominent cultural figures. These include Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Kae Tempest, David Shrigley, Rokia Traoré, Lemn Sissay OBE and Marwa Al-Sabouni & Tristan Sharps. And now Nabihah Iqbal joins this illustrious list.

She’ll be presenting her latest experimental musical project SUROOR, with artists Raheel Khan, Paul Purgas and Imran Peretta; and champions UK bass culture with performances from DJs Aba Shanti-I and Dennis Bovell. She will also be in conversation with inspiring artists and thinkers across the programme. Including, exploring Brighton and East Sussex with historian David Olusoga, and a joyful evening of music and discussion with BBC broadcaster Anita Rani.

Galatea _ Brighton Festival 2023_Credit by Rosie Powell


“In addition to her fantastic curation of the music programme, Nabihah has worked with us to commission several innovative productions for the festival,” adds Comben. “These include the world premiere of a new genre-defying production of John Lyly’s Galatea. It is an inclusive tale of love, joy and the importance of welcoming outsiders. She is also collaborating with award-winning interactive arts collective Invisible Flock on the world premiere of The Sleeping Tree. It uses an immersive soundscape to transport audiences to the distant and fragile ecosystem of the Sumatran rainforest.”

Iqbal’s debut album, Weighing of the Heart, was released via Ninja Tune in 2017 to huge critical acclaim. The London-based artist also hosts a bi-weekly show on NTS Radio. They explore musical traditions and cultures without boundaries, and frequently appears on BBC networks, presenting shows on BBC Radio 1, Radio 4, 1Xtra, Asian Network, World Service and 6Music. 

Touring extensively, both as a live act and as a DJ, her performance highlights have included the Tate Modern and Tate Britain. Also, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Barbican and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, K11 Art Institute in Shanghai and MoMA PS1 in New York. 

A vigorous celebration of music, theatre, dance, art, film, literature, debate, outdoor and community events. This year’s festival will see an incredible 120 performances, exhibitions and installations taking place. Among these are eight Brighton Festival commissions, plus six world premieres, three UK premieres and nine Brighton Festival exclusives.

Festival Highlights

Highlights include the UK premiere of Groundswell – a large-scale immersive installation for all ages. Created by award-winning Australian artist Matthias Schack-Arnott, they fuse sound and movement into evocative, atmospheric experiences. Groundswell explores the ground beneath our feet and is presented in partnership with Brighton Fringe. This free event is made possible by principal supporter, The Pebble Trust. Their annual support of Brighton Festival’s major productions and installations offers audiences innovative and unique ways of seeing and experiencing our wonderful city. 

Actor Russell Tovey, writer and performance artist Travis Alabanza and poet Joelle Taylor appear in Blue Now. This is a special mixed-media performance of Derek Jarman’s last film, Blue. Directed by Neil Bartlett, following his recent critically acclaimed adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the screening will also feature a new live score from original composer Simon Fisher Turner. 

Ancient Futures_Unlimited Theatre & Upswing_Brighton Festival 2023_ Credit creativepowerr

Low ticket costs

This year’s Festival includes 123 free performances. 87 performances are offering tickets for £10 or less – including £10 Festival Standbys for concession groups available on most events. The Pay It Forward scheme is also supporting free ticket vouchers for community organisations.

“We’ve worked hard to keep prices low and accessible and to offer a huge range of free experiences in the Festival. So, if it’s your first time, the best way to start is to pick up a copy of the brochure and browse with an open mind. You can come along to some of the festival’s free events, such as the Children’s Parade, A Weekend Without Walls, Groundswell or visual art, and it’s a great way to get a taste of the festival’s atmosphere and to see some of the work on offer. If that whets your appetite, dive into some of the music, dance, circus and theatre.” He says the key to experiencing the Brighton Festival is keeping an open mind. Be adventurous, and trying to catch as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and explore new artistic styles or shows.

Brighton Festival’s economic impact and ambitious scale remain intact, thanks to the steadfast support of Brighton & Hove City Council and Arts Council England. Along with The Pebble Trust; major sponsors Moda Living; and Mayo Wynne Baxter, Higher Education Partner University of Sussex; and wider supporters, donors, patrons and members. Brighton Festival is also made possible with support from international partners and governments. These include Culture Ireland and the Australian Council for the Arts.

Plenty more to see and do

Following a major refurbishment, Brighton Dome’s historic Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre will reopen with Van Gogh Alive. An innovative, immersive exploration of the life and works of the seminal Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. It had sell-out runs in Edinburgh, Manchester and London. Brighton audiences will be the first to experience its brand-new Starry Night installation.  

This year’s music programme spans a huge range of artists equally at home in classical repertoire and experimental performance. The Festival welcomes sitar legend Anoushka Shankar; Mercury-Prize winning percussionist Talvin Singh. It also hosts a celebration of timeless breakbeat with Goldie. Expect a Brighton Festival exclusive performance from vocalist and composer Bishi and the Trans Voices choir.  

A weekend exploring folk music in all its forms, Different Folks, will be led by the legendary Shirley Collins and Martin and Eliza Carthy. They will be alongside contemporary psych-folk duo Stick in the Wheel and multi-instrumentalists Laura Groves and Angeline Morrison. 

Elsewhere Public Image Ltd’s Jah Wobble reimagines their classic album Metal Box in dub. UK jazz auteur and Mercury Prize-nominee Shabaka Hutchings swaps his saxophone for a Japanese shakuhachi flute. Musician and actor Nadine Shah collaborates with writer Jackie Thompson on a theatrical story of chaos and recovery, To Be A Young Man

Anoushka Shankar_Brighton Festival 2023_Credit Laura Lewis

Classical music

Classical highlights for 2023 include François-Xavier Roth conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Lindberg and Beethoven. The ‘dazzling virtuoso’ has Yuja Wang at the piano. Actors Rory Kinnear and Pandora Colin join singers Mark Padmore and Roderick Williams and pianist Julius Drake. They present a programme of words and music inspired by Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man. The Takács Quartet make a welcome return to the Festival, performing Arvo Pärt and Schubert at Glyndebourne. 

Brighton & East Sussex Youth Orchestra will perform pieces with a distinctly folk feel by Aaron Copland, Edward Elgar and Doreen Carwithen. The orchestra’s young musicians will also benefit from mentoring by members of the LSO. This marks the growing ambition of Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival’s music education hub, Create Music.

Theatre Highlights

Theatre highlights include the National Theatre of Scotland’s swashbuckling rom-com Kidnapped. Created by Olivier award-winning Isobel McArthur and Michael John McCarthy, based on the Robert Louis-Stevenson classic. The Festival also hosts the UK Premiere of French-Norwegian puppetry masters Plexus Polaire’s Moby Dick. Irish theatre-maker Brokentalker’s hilarious smash-hit Masterclass. Conor Mitchell and the Belfast Ensemble’s critically acclaimed form-bending production of Abomination: A DUP Opera

Dance and Circus

Dance and circus performances include the world premiere of Kizlar from Brighton-based choreographer Ceyda Tanc. Australia’s contemporary circus troupe Gravity & Other Myths bringing Out of Chaos, an explosive acrobatic performance. Referencing birth, death, and primordial physics. Further, there is a free night-time outdoor performance Playbook. And, Aakash Odedra’s moving and humorous dance portrait of dyslexia, Little Murmur. An exciting partnership with South East Dance at Brighton’s own The Dance Space includes new commission, Queer Collision . Created by dance-maker Stewart Waters; a short season of contemporary Korean dance, Kontemporary Korea; and Second Hand Dance welcome babies and young children.

Visual Arts

The visual arts programme features two world premieres. Brighton Festival Exclusive, Parachute, is the first solo exhibition from photographer Reuben Bastienne-Lewis. It is an intimate portrait of friendship, family and community, documenting the journey from adolescence into adulthood; and painter Mohammed Adel offers a window into British-Bengali identity, exploring the personal and the universal via the family album format.

A Certain Ratio_Brighton Festival 2023_Credit Paul Husband


In an echo of the call to Gather Round, the Festival maintains its strong connections with communities across the region. A Weekend Without Walls is the free programme of outdoor performances. It continues to push the boundaries of dynamic, thought-provoking work in public spaces both in Brighton & Hove and in Crawley. In a Brighton Festival Commission, Ceyda Tanc will also collaborate with Third Space on a bold new reimagining of the ancient Greek tragedy. Bhakkhai will be performed against the backdrop of the South Downs with a cast aged 8-60.

Comben says the Festival remains committed to bring events out into the community and make them accessible for as many as possible. “It is incredibly important to overcome barriers to entry in the arts. Art has the power to inspire, challenge, and uplift us. It should be accessible to everyone regardless of their background, income, or location.” 

From enabling communities through the Our Place projects in the city’s outlying neighbourhoods, the Pay it Forward Scheme and their Audience Club, there’s many ways that Brighton Festival is removing the obstacles to participation. “We want to make the arts more inclusive and diverse and help to build stronger and more connected communities. When we are all able to engage with the arts, it can also have a positive impact on our wellbeing, mental health, and sense of belonging. By creating opportunities for people from all walks of life to come together and experience the power of the arts we help to create a more vibrant, healthy, and connected society.”


For fans of comedy, Nish Kumar leads the big-name line-up in Live at Brighton Festival, alongside award-winner Thanyia Moore and Chloe Petts; and triple Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee Josie Long presents a brand-new show, Re-Enchantment, musing on how to love the world under ‘difficult circumstances’. 

Books and Spoken Word

In the Books & Debates series poet and recording artist Linton Kwesi Johnson will enjoy an evening of music and words with Nabihah Iqbal, to mark his new prose selection, Time Come; journalist Polly Toynbee examines class in modern Britain; and model and activist Munroe Bergdorf will explore what binds us, not what separates us. Young readers are encouraged to Gather Round to hear an irresistible new story from former Children’s Laureate Jacqueline Wilson; join illustrator Martin Brown to celebrate 30 years of Horrible Histories; and celebrate ‘hair-as-superpower’ with author Tolá Okogwu and her epic adventure Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun.

Brighton Festival 2016_Children’s Parade_credit Vic Frankowski

Children’s Parade

In respect of the upcoming coronation, the annual Children’s Parade moves to Sun 7 May, and interprets the Gather Round theme with One World, learning and growing from each other. With 5000 children moving through the streets of Brighton, this colourful celebration will reflect the importance of collaboration in Inventions; Culture, Cooking & Fashion; and Our Environment.

Brighton Festival represents the spirit of its place, one of openness and enquiry. “It is a crucible of ideas: artistic, political, philosophical, ethical and we encourage our audiences to approach with an open mind and try something new. It can be a difficult balancing act but we’re always looking for ways to entice Festival goers to see something they know they’ll love, and to try something they’re less sure about in the hope they love that too.”

Comben says he’s thrilled to be bringing international work back to the Festival for the first time since Covid and offer a whole range of performances which audiences are not likely to have seen. “…and the really exciting thing about this year’s festival is how involved Nabihah has been in helping to curate it. She has connected artists with each other and across artforms in a way that encourages people to really dig into the programme and discover those connections for themselves.” 

Brighton Festival comes to venues across Brighton & Hove, and Sussex, on Sat 6 – Sun 28 May. For tickets and details of the entire schedule, visit: 

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