Posts Tagged ‘Brighton Town Hall’

Human Rights is the theme of this year’s Brighton Festival, with Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi as it’s honorary Guest Director, and there could be no more powerful way of helping you glimpse life in a police state than the site specific piece The New World Order by Hydrocracker at Brighton Town Hall.

As you arrive, there are intimidating guards with dogs. As you enter, you’re searched and issued with a pass and some instructions. As you assemble on the giant stairway, you are ‘greeted’ by someone from the Ministry of Cultural Integrity and taken to the council chamber for a press conference by the minister. From here, you move through the building – to the minister’s office, down the stairs into the hall and on to basement archives, corridors and cells (the old police station is here!).

During this time, you learn of the story of a man, his wife, son and mother. They are intimidated, humiliated, violated and tortured. The authority characters sometimes interact with you by asking you questions and requesting your ID. The mood is occasionally lightened when you meet a janitor on his rounds (until he too is arrested) and a bossy but chirpy lady whose role is unclear (other than to be bossy and chirpy!) but much of what you witness makes you wince. You get a real sense of what it must be like to live in perpetual fear of these animals.

This is a ‘mash-up’ of five of Harold Pinter’s late plays, two of which I’ve seen before when they were nowhere near as powerful than they are here. You’d never know they weren’t meant to be played together or weren’t specifically written for this type of site specific promenade performance. Unlike much similar work, you don’t feel at all herded and it never seems contrived. Director Ellie Jones and her design team of Ellen Cairns (overall design), Thor McIntyre-Burnie (sound) and Tim Mascall (lighting) have done an extraordinary job in bringing this work and this building to such chilling life. Look out for a London production later in the year.

Earlier in the day, an installation by Australian Lynette Wallworth called Evolution of Fearlessness had a similarly powerful effect. In a darkened room, as you touched a blue light on a large screen, women emerge on the screen and walk forward, hold up their left palm and after a while walk back into the dark. They said nothing, but you appeared to be peering into the souls of these 10 refugees from around the world for a mere glimpse of their pain. On a number of occasions, those who had touched the light to trigger the next image, then touched the palm of the woman who appeared; this spontaneous, seemingly unintentional, action was somehow deeply moving.

The rest of my day at the festival didn’t seem to have much to do with the theme. El Gallo, by Mexican company Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes was as pointless an 80 minutes as The New World Order’s 80 was profound. An ‘opera’ in gibberish about rehearsing an opera with six singers and eight string players and a conductor. The story of how relationships disintegrate during rehearsals was funny for the first twenty minutes, but then became a tiresome overlong joke. The rest of the audience seemed to love it; I couldn’t wait for it to end.

Two other installations with the unfortunate title Mesopotamian Dramaturgies – Mayhem & Su – were projections by Turkish film director Kutlug Ataman, placed together in a disused market hall. One comprised two pairs of double-sided screens, placed far apart, on which we saw the Bosphorus in different ‘moods’ and between them seven projections of South America’s Iguasu Falls. Apparently, they do fit the festival theme, but I didn’t really see how – but they were absolutely gorgeous.

The final installation was The Forty Part Motet by favourite Janet Cardiff, who this time recorded a 40-piece choir with each voice in a separate channel coming out of a separate speaker placed in an oval shape in a deconsecrated church. They sing a beautiful 16th century Thomas Tallis piece as you stand or walk around. It was so lovely, I went twice.

It was a series of unconscious decisions taken at different times that linked together Friday’s Mark Thomas show about the wall between Israel and Palestine, Brighton Festival’s Human Rights theme and Sunday’s verbatim piece about Georgian refugees. Spooky!

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