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Natasha Tripney picks the best of Brighton’s Festival and Fringe

Amy Warren, Lynn Hawley, and Jay O Sanders in Hungry, play one of The Gabriels. Photo: Joan Marcus
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Brighton comes alive in May. The Festival stretches across the city, spilling on to the beach and stretching into its suburbs. There will be theatre, dance, comedy, literature, music, circus and film, and a few things that can’t be so easily categorised.

This year’s festival is guest-directed by poet, performer, novelist and musician Kate Tempest (read my interview with her here), following in the footsteps of performance artist Laurie Anderson and novelist Ali Smith in recent years. Each guest director makes their mark on the festival programme and Tempest intends to do the same, with a focus on access and community engagement.

At the same time, the Brighton Fringe, now the largest annual arts festival in England and one of the largest fringe festivals in the world, continues to thrive. This year, it runs from May 5-June 4.

Here are my picks for this year’s Brighton Festival and Fringe.

Brighton Festival

For the Birds – Secret woodland location – May 6-28

Outdoor and location-responsive work has always formed a big part of the Brighton Festival programme – last year’s Digging for Shakespeare was staged in an allotment, 2012’s Motor Show on a patch of waste ground. Billed as an “immersive night-time adventure”, For the Birds was originally staged at RSPB Ynys-hir reserve in Wales and at the 2016 New Zealand Festival (where it attracted more than 10,000 people). This nocturnal journey through the Sussex woodland mixes light, sound and moving sculptures to create a family-friendly festival experience. For the Birds is playing throughout the festival.

Swan Lake/Loch Na Heala – Brighton Dome, May 9-10

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s new version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet is set in central Ireland and explores the murky middle ground between purity and sin in the Catholic Church. Narrated by actor Mikel Murfi, it has already acquired a clutch of five-star reviews in Ireland and London.

Driftwood – Theatre Royal Brighton, May 11-14

The new show by Australian group Casus was one of the circus highlights of last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It blends technically dazzling sequences with moments of calm and quiet and occasional passages of traditional Samoan dance, as the company members pile themselves on top of each other, forming human totems and pyramids. Casus is one of the key names in contemporary circus and this show is a dazzler.

Let Them Eat Chaos: Rearranged – Brighton Dome, May 11

Festival guest director Tempest teams up with musician and composer Mica Levi and ensemble Orchestrate to present a special performance of Tempest’s recently released album Let Them Eat Chaos, reworked for a string orchestra. A series of stories of sleepless Londoners set against the backdrop of the city, it’s a fusion of music, poetry and storytelling. It’s sold out, but you can always queue for a return.

No Dogs, No Indians – The Spire, May 17-18

Poet and playwright Siddhartha Bose presents his new play, three intertwining stories ranging from 1930s Bengal to India to mark the 70th anniversary of Indian independence. Russell Bender directs a Brighton Festival co-commission from the writer of Kalagora. After its Brighton run it tours the UK.

The Gabriels – Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, May 20-27

In 2015, the Brighton Festival presented the Apple Family Plays, Richard Nelson’s quartet of plays spanning four years in the life of one American family. Watched in one day, they made for an extraordinary experience. You felt as if you were living with this family, sharing all its hopes. This year features Nelson’s The Gabriels, a trilogy following another American family in real time over the election year of 2016. All three plays can be watched individually, but if they’re at all like the Apple Family Plays, you’ll want to watch them in a single day. If I had to pick one thing from the festival programme to see, it would be this.

Meow Meow: Souvenir – Theatre Royal Brighton, May 20

The magnificent Meow Meow, cabaret artist and chanteuse, was Emma Rice’s Titania in her production of A Mid-summer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare’s Globe last year. Meow Meow has created full-length works before, including Little Match Girl. Souvenir is a Brighton Festival one-off, a song-cycle created in response to the history of the city’s atmospheric Theatre Royal.

Brighton Fringe

Focus Group* – Old Market, May 7

Toot’s experimental and surreal new show – full title: Focus Group* *Or How to Stare Down & Transfigure Loneliness1 1A Play After David Foster Wallace – uses ping pong and cake to explore ideas of identity in a networked world. After Brighton, it will have a brief London run.

Die Die Die Old People Die at the Komedia, Brighton. Photo: Stuart Paterson

Die Die Die Old People Die – Komedia, May 13

Ridiculusmus – the company behind Give Me Your Love, the two-hander about MDMA-assisted therapy for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland and a feverishly brilliant two-man The Importance of Being Earnest, run by co-artistic directors David Woods and Jon Haynes – presents a one-off performance of a new show at Komedia. Since 2014, the company has been making work exploring issues surrounding mental health. This new piece promises slapstick comedy about dying and grieving.

Borderline – The Warren, May 15-17

Psychedelight specialises in creating socially engaged theatre. Made with refugees from Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine together with European performers, this devised piece plays the Brighton Fringe before touring.

Dangled – The Warren, May 22-23, 29-30

The winner of the audience choice award at the Cape Town Fringe, Louis Viljoen’s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story Diary of a Madman, performed by actor Rob van Vuuren, promises to be equal parts unsettling and amusing. Part of the thrill of the fringe is coming across little gems of international fringe theatre in intimate venues.

Circled in the Radio Times – The Warren, May 26-29

Poet and performer John Osborne’s hit show John Peel’s Shed, based on his book Radio Head, was a love letter to British radio – inspired by the box of records he once won on a competition on John Peel’s radio show. His new storytelling show is inspired by a collection of old copies of the Radio Times he recently found and, more broadly, is about how our relationship with television has changed over the years. Osborne is always affable and engaging as a performer.

Macho Macho – Old Market, May 31-June 1

This year, the Brighton Fringe is playing host to a season of 14 UK premieres from the Netherlands, supported by the Amsterdam Fringe Festival, presenting some of the most interesting performance to come out of the country. One of the most intriguing pieces is Macho Macho by Bosnian-Dutch artist Igor Vrebac, a show inspired by Instagram-workout-selfies, among other things, to unpick ideas of modern masculinity. It sounds deliciously weird.

The Brighton Festival runs at various locations across the city from May 6-28. The Brighton Fringe also runs across the city, from May 5-June 14