The first UK city to launch a multi-arts festival since lockdown, Brighton & Hove is welcoming back Brighton Festival this May.
The acclaimed British and Ethiopian poet, playwright and broadcaster, Lemn Sissay MBE, launched the programme as guest director today, signalling a welcome return for the arts under the theme of ‘Care’.
The festival draws together 94 events, performances, exhibitions and installations, taking place from Sat 1 May – Sun 31 May – both as specially commissioned online projects, as livestreams and across multiple outdoor and indoor locations extending from Brighton to Worthing.
From Mon 17 May, provided government guidelines allow, live indoor and outdoor performances will produced for socially distanced audiences in much-loved venues – some reopening for the first time since 2020.
All events will be equipped for social distancing, including reduced capacity seating, bookings in household bubbles and full safety measures implemented across all sites.
Lemn Sissay’s exclusive Brighton Festival project, Tell Me Something About Family creates an online conversation that will connect people through the complexity and variety of what family can mean. From his own personal experience of growing up without a family, Sissay is inviting the public, along with other artists, friends and peers, to share their personal memories and ‘light up the world with stories, phrases of sayings about family’ via a new website.
The popular Children’s Parade, which traditionally marks the opening day of the Festival, will be adapted into a visual spectacle along Brighton’s streets with colourful artwork made by local schools and a photographic history to celebrate over 30 years of the much-loved event.
Ray Lee’s Points of Departure gathers spectacular sculptures are brought together for the first time against a night-time backdrop of Shoreham Port. The large-scale structures sing a sci-fi symphony that points to a future departure to other worlds.
Brighton’s Theatre Royal will be transformed into an immersive and intimate theatrical experience with the World Premiere of Tenebrae’s Lessons Learnt in Darkness. Running from sunrise to sunset over one day, it acknowledges a year of collective grief and courage,
Brighton-based theatre artist, Tim Crouch, digitally remasters BS Johnson’s celebrated novel House Mother Normal. Set within a care home, a group of elderly residents each recall their past and narrate their terrifying present, in a series of filmed monologues presented by Crouch as online performances and in a special physical installation in an empty shop.
American theatre director Peter Sellars will present an online UK premiere of This Body is so impermanent…– a multi-disciplinary filmed performance created in response to Covid-19. Based on a passage from the Buddhist text, Vimalakirti Sutra, This Body is so impermanent… was made in isolation by a group of virtuosic and singular artists on three continents, coming together to create an hour-long meditation on this transformative and startingly honest text.
Socially engaged artist John Newling’s letters to nature form a poetic manifesto for our relationship with the natural world. Dear Nature is a thought-provoking co-commission by Brighton Festival, seeing composers Sally Beamish and Lisa Heute have linked a selection of the letters using a series of pieces for solo cello. The letters, read by members of the public, are juxtaposed with Reece Straw’s mesmerising images of nature and live cello performance.
Created by Brighton-based artist duo Semiconductor, HALO is a multisensory experience fusing art, science and music played out upon hundreds of vertical piano strings. Audiences enter an intricate mechanical structure operated by scientific data which recreates the conditions shortly after the Big Bang. The artwork follows Semiconductor’s residency at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, and was made with the help of physicists from the University of Sussex.
Fabrica in partnership with Towner Eastbourne invite us to explore the twisting pathways of a fairytale forest that sprang up in the imagination of the internationally renowned Danish–Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The Forked Forest Path is an evocation of a forest is a fully immersive installation that enfolds viewers in the sights, scents and textures of a wood in winter. A trail entices visitors into a dense thicket of branches, boughs and saplings, locally and sustainably sourced from Stanmer Park and Foxwood Foresty near Lewes.
One of Britain’s best loved writers and performance poets for both children and adults, Michael Rosen has published over 100 books, won myriad awards and was certainly one of Britain’s most famous survivors of the Covid-19 virus. As a previous Brighton Festival guest director, Rosen has been specially invited by this year’s guest director Lemn Sissay to celebrate his 75th birthday and will be in conversation with journalist, author and curator, Hannah Azieb Pool, sharing some of his work and unpacking his remarkable life in letters.
Over a series of four days, an outdoor art canvas will slowly reveal a giant public portrait! Without Walls’ Robot Selfie asks the public to upload their favourite photo online which will be recreated by a painting robot, bringing people together from all over the world in one big selfie.
A bike ride around the city turns into a fun and interactive game with Brighton-based digital artists Blast Theory. Rider Spoke takes cyclists on a guided tour using a smartphone app, with narrators leading them to search for secret hiding places.
Once again, there’s a strong Classical Music strand at Brighton Festival. An ensemble of startling verve and versatility, La Nuova Musica, will be offering a bold new take on Monteverdi’s monumental masterpiece the Vespro della Beata Vergine. The great baritone Roderick Williams will be joined by soprano Ella Taylor, and baritone Themba Mvula, to perform a refreshing take on Schubert’s song cycle Schwanengesang. Elsewhere, Isata Kanneh-Mason will be making her Brighton Festival debut, with a programme that perfectly reflects the full range of her stunning artistry as a pianist.
Three nights of comedy will fill Brighton Dome with laughter as it welcomes three very different stand-up artists, including Josie Long, Sofie Hagen and Mark Watson.
The festival’s long association with Contemporary Music continues, welcoming shows from Le Gateau Chocolat, Gwenno performing the score from Bait. There’s also a special edition of Live is Alive! – Brighton Dome’s celebration of the local grassroots music scene.
While Brighton Festival has long enjoyed a tradition of staging work in outdoor and less familiar venues – which is ideal in these times of social distancing.
Pier to Pier will involve various seafront locations between Brighton and Worthing. This immersive sound installation explores the 14 miles between the two town’s piers, using interviews with people who live or work on the coast and music from a coastal choir.
Herstory offers a city-wide audio storytelling experience, which uncovers the real stories of Brighton-based women as they live through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Insightful, inspiring, and revolutionary the stories will be told via hub locations around the city and a series of unique QR codes at listening posts in Hangleton, Moulsecoomb, Whitehawk and central Brighton.
Presenting an exhilarating selection of free pop-up performances from some of the UK’s most innovative artistic companies, Without Walls will be fusing dance, theatre, acrobatics, circus and music, that will bring alive outdoor locations in and around the city, including participating Our Place locations.
Brighton Festival returns to venues in Brighton & Hove, and across Sussex, on Sat 1 May to Sun 31 May 2021
Visit the new Brighton Festival website here.
Lemn Sissay image by Jamie MacMillian