How do you read a show like Problem in Brighton, written by this year’s guest festival director David Shrigley? Firstly, Shrigley toys with us with his title: will we get a story about a problem in Brighton, or what? It dawns on me by the second song that the name of the band is Problem, and they are in Brighton. Right.
Playing custom black-and white guitars (some sporting only a single bass string), using odds and sods as props for slapstick and musical purposes, Problem ape, face out and emote before the crowd, delivering a smorgasbord of off-kilter numbers whose effect is an accumulation of laughter and bewilderment, with nothing floating to the top as the show’s dominant tone.
Is this satirical? Sub-satirical, throwing out undigested lumps of silliness and anger? Is it (dare I say) hilariously post-modern, mucking about with signs for the sake of it? Is it a comic tribute to all its namchecked genres: rock, pop, prog, indie, punk?
I would say the closest frame for this is poetry. With Shrigley’s words, the songs reflect the wonder and bathos of outer and inner life, with well-judged humour and child-like ingenuousness: ‘sometimes obstacles are tiny, sometimes obstacles are huge; sometimes people are nice to you, but most of the time they are rude’. These are odd poetic scenes, animated by frustration and violence – ‘I will eat the human corpse, yes, I will eat it with a spoon, I will eat it with a fork’ the entire band chant to the tune of a traditional hymn.
Ending with a sole member playing two notes on a single string, this zero sum show feels as funny as it is empty. Which is kind of the point, I guess.