Category Archives: Treading the Boards

No place like Dome?

Brighton Dome

Who you callin’ intellectual? Gogol Bordello bring their rambunctious performance to Brighton in November


Ten years ago the New Yorker writer John Seabrook coined the term ‘Nobrow’ to define the merger and marketing of low and high art. No-one cares if anything is good anymore, Seabrook argued, the only meaningful criterion is ‘is it hot?’ If, like Seabrook, you lament the decline of cultural hierarchy, it must truly seem as if the world has gone to hell in a hand-basket. In an age where a 140-character tweet on Twitter is deemed as significant (if not more so) than a 2,000-word essay in the London Review of Books, one might be tempted to believe that the citadels of civilisation have indeed fallen and the barbarians are uploading evidence of their boorish behaviour on Tumblr.  

Not everyone sees it this way. I attended the launch of the Brighton Dome’s Autumn Season recently in the company of my good friend Nick Mosley, publisher of Brighton Visitor and general mover-and-shaker around Sussex. Nick is an unabashed populist and thinks the Dome’s season is too targeted at the egg-heads. I’m an unashamed elitist and don’t agree. I guess this means the Dome has got the programme about right.  

So what’s on it? The mainstream is well and truly represented with concerts from the Bootleg Beatles, Michael Bolton, Heaven 17, Gogol Bordello, Goldfrapp and OMD. The Heath Quartet will perform Barber’s Adagio for Strings, practically the theme tune of middlebrow classical music fans. New musical talent is showcased over two nights featuring Will and the People, Lauren Rebecca, The Watermelons, Alice, and When Monsters Walk. Then there’s Brighton Ukulele Day (December 18) featuring the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.  

Brainfood is served up during the Sussex Salon Series when academics and specialists will discuss ‘The expert patient’, ‘How new is the ‘new politics’?’ and ‘What difference have civil partnerships made?’ And during the Women Writers Festival the estimable Bonnie Greer will talk about her new book ‘Obama Music: some notes from a South Sider Abroad’.  

It’s the sacroiliac rather than the cerebellum that is the focus of Breakin’ Convention 10, a festival of hip-hop dance theatre featuring, among others, Sébastien & Raphael, Phase T and Jonzi D.  

With workshops on stand-up comedy, soulful singing and sonnet writing, the Dome clearly hopes to get people out of their seats and into the limelight.  

I think this represents neither success for the scholarly nor the victory of the vulgarians. But I do think that if you can’t find anything to do in Brighton this winter, you need a check up from the neck up. In anticipation, here’s a clip of Sébastien & Raphael in a genre-pulping slice of dance-theatre.  


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Brian Eno launches the Brighton Festival

Brighton FestivalHow do you describe Brian Eno? Composer, producer, Renaissance man – and now guest artistic director for the upcoming Brighton Festival (May 1-23). Back in the day, Eno gained notoriety as the high-camp heart of the original Roxy Music line-up. On stage at the Brighton Dome today, at a press conference called to launch the festival, he proved a puckish presence dressed in a black jacket, silk turquoise shirt and black denim jeans. When he laughed – which he did often – he flashed a gold molar.

“We hanker after surrender,” he said. “Sex, drugs, art and religion are all forms of surrender. They give us the chance to lose ourselves.”

Another Eno aphorism: “The artist is a gardener – not fully in control. You plant a seed and you see what happens.”

One interesting fruit from his husbandry is ’77 Million Paintings’ which runs throughout the festival at the Fabrica gallery. Produced by ‘generative’ software, the installation features Eno’s hand-drawn images which are sliced and diced in limitless variations to an ambient soundtrack.

David Eagleman’s cult book ‘Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlives’, which Eno described as ‘Borgesian’, provides the inspiration for a live performance at the Dome’s Concert Hall on May 22. Eno said it will feature the spoken word in a ‘sonically considered setting’ – almost a sung lecture.

At the Corn Exchange on May 16, the accent is on positive thinking as Eno presents a Panglossian take on our contemporary problems. “Our problems are so enormous,” he said, “that if we succeed in rethinking them we will have reinvented ourselves. You create the world you believe in.”

In the world Eno believes in, the singing voice is a central element. He became animated when discussing an evening of acapella on May 7. In particular he hymned the praised of the New York sextet Naturally 7. Here they are using their vocal cords to deliver a performance as overwhelming as any amped-up instruments.

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How Trapped provided release for Brighton’s young offenders

Timing is everything in the theatre; when Rebecca Fidler approached Pippa Smith, from Brighton Dome’s Learning Access and Participation, with the idea of creating a dramatic work through the involvement of Brighton’s Youth Offending Services, the Alternative Centre for Education and the Family Intervention Project, she could not have chosen a more serendipitous moment. Smith had just been tasked by chief executive Andrew Comber with making theatre more accessible to ‘disenfranchised’ groups, and Fidler’s ideas were the perfect solution.

The eventual outcome was ‘Trapped’, which was performed at the Pavilion Theatre in the city last night. The fatalistic storyline centres around the volatile relationship between two young men, Pitt (Rupert De La Mare) and Penfold (Jake Penfold) and highlights the way their vulnerabilities are exploited by the sinister figure of Cash Money Long (Israel Oyelumade). Sam Hunter played Charlie, Pitt’s perfidious love interest.

The story was developed by the young players over ten weeks, allowing them to investigate their own ideas about the borderlines of responsibility and power. The plan was to create a world which mirrored, but was not a carbon copy of, their own environment – ‘at one step removed’ as Fidler put it.

Professional actors Oyelumade and Maria Skinner helped the teenagers to take their ideas and turn them into watchable drama.

Round table discussions: rehearsing Trapped

The night was more about the power of performing than creating crowd-pleasing entertainment but it has to be said that Jake Penfold and Sam Hunter, in particular, showed signs of having what it takes, if a career in theatre beckons.

Next door at the Dome, Gary Wilmot was starring in the press night of ‘Chicago’ – another tale of lives lived on the wrong side of the tracks. But ‘Trapped’ replaced the razzle dazzle with nitty gritty and was the better for it.

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