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Brighton Festival and Fringe – May’s annual circus

May is a great month to live in Brighton. The launch of the Brighton Festival and Fringe on the bank holiday weekend signify the end of the winter slumber and the beginning of a season of bonkers creativity and non-stop outdoor celebrations.  This year it was even better, with proper summer temperatures and a sense of euphoria about the streets. Summer is here, lets get out and experience it!

Experience what exactly? 

Choosing what to see with your kids during Brighton Festival and Fringe is impossible. There is so much going on that you just get lost in it all. I was well-intentioned,  I think every parent is, and I got the brochures when they first came out and created a complicated highlighted he calendar with all the good sounding shows, the 241 offers and the free stuff. I then earnestly went online to buy tickets and massively failed – it’s expensive as a family of 4 and whilst we’ve seen some great things over the years (acrobatic pirates and the amazing bubble man) there were also some shockers (Christopher Nibble, which was aimed at far younger kids than was advertised). Then there are the 241 deals, which seem great but you have to be a member and I can never remember whether things I’ve liked the look of are to do with the Fringe or the Brighton Festival. So much cross-referencing. So much confusion. So much failing to get to see anything because of it! In the end I booked tickets to Lexicon – we’ve seen No Fit State before and I hoped that they would strike a good balance between the acrobatics and clowning around that appeals to kids but doesn’t make the grown-ups cringe. More about our thoughts later…

It all begins with a launch

The Children’s parade

I kick-started the Fringe at The Warren launch party. The fireworks and festival beer were both rather underwhelming, but it was a night out without the kids and everyone was in a celebratory mood so good fun was had. We then did the child-friendly Brighton Festival launch with the Children’s Parade. –  the largest annual outdoor event for young people in this country. This year was ‘Red-Faced and Grumpy…. particularly schools above number 33’. I jest, they were actually marching with models and costumes made to support the theme of ‘Paintings’, but it was boiling and it must have been hard getting the later school kids walking with smiles when they had to wait so long to start.  It is a great start to the month though and I love that all the schools come together to celebrate – about 5000 kids took part this year and it’s more than just the parade. Same Sky work with each school to help them create a willow structure to carry through the streets and some of them were incredible. I loved the Frida Kahlo – particularly as all the kids had mini monobrows! Kit wasn’t keen on joining the parade because ‘the drums make (his) heart feel funny’, but he loved watching and I think next year I can convince him – I’m definitely going to get my monobrow on and join in anyway!

It was a scorcher and so we dipped our toes into the Spiegeltent beer garden – a quick cool down after the parade. They have ‘done-up’ the back bar with loads of rugs and comfy sofas. There is even a bath??! Whereas the regular bar bit was packed, the comfy section was empty and the kids took their shoes and socks off (they are programmed by years of me shouting ‘don’t get your feet on the sofa!’ ) and kicked back. We were there for an hour – we would have been happy to stay longer as the beer was cold and the sun was just right, but I think the designer of the cosy tee-pee might have assumed a cooler setting. Velvety sofas and heavy rugs do not make for the coolest environment for two little boys and we caved in to their sweaty faces and took them home.

Lexicon – the melting circus

Bank holiday Monday, the hottest day of the year. You can imagine what a stifling sweat pit Lexicon at the big top was – a black tent in a city bathed in a haze of disposable bbq heat and sunburnt bodies. We took a cool bag and hugged the cool packs, which kept the kids from complaining. Top tip though, if it’s a hot day take lots of cold water as it is roasting in there. It might also be worth taking a snifter of wine. They have a bar, which appeals to the British need to booze in the sunshine, but you have to pay a deposit for a plastic glass which you can’t take it in with you. By the time you’ve queued, paid and re-queued for the deposit, there’s a very small window in which to enjoy your bar-bought drink.

Anywho, on to the show. Hats off to the troupe for their energy. We were melting in our seats and didn’t, nay couldn’t, have run around in suits and dresses as they did. It was impressive – lots going on at once and people and props flying in all directions. I wasn’t quite sure the write-up was relevant – the Brighton Festival brochure and website describe Lexicon as  “Drawing inspiration from history, heritage and traditions, this show digs into the underground of memory and celebrates the past, present and future of this much-loved artform.” – but it did ‘dazzle’ as the reviews suggested. The group were full of energy and each routine was an incredible performance of strength, balance and skill. They make it look easy and I wondered whether I would need to explain to the kids how incredibly hard it is to hold yourself parallel to the floor from a vertical pole, to balance two sticks or balance on a piece of rope so they could properly appreciate it. They were gripped though and there was lots of ‘wooooowwwww’ going on – particularly with the trapeze and, rather randomly, the diablos (although Kit has one of these and now wants to learn to juggle three at once). They also loved the clowing around. Maybe I should get them to help me understand that as I’ve never particularly liked all the silly voices and slapstick. Why the fake language?? I did laugh along with them though when the fire juggler set himself on fire.

Before we were told about the no camera rule!

What I really liked about the performance was the drama of it all. No Fit State use light and shadows as well as music to create atmosphere. It also feels very much like a group piece of work -a community in which they all rely on each other and no-one is the star. An accordion player might put down her instrument and suddenly get on a bike and take a turn of the room, while someone who has just performed an incredible balancing act will next be seen scaling up the scaffolding to winch up a trapeze. In fact watching the dance of all the pulleys was theatre in itself – It is so well coordinated that you don’t notice people or objects ‘getting clipped on’ and they seem to just fly up in the air.  They all trust each other to get the job done and to be there to catch them when they are thrown backwards across the room. It’s a magical piece of choreography.

We’d recommend Lexicon – here for a few more weeks. I have no idea of the top of my head if it is on as part of the Brighton Festival or the Fringe but who cares – it’s a great part of Brighton’s May celebrations!