fri 21/06/2024

Brighton Festival 2012: Waterlitz, Stuffing Peter Rabbit, War Sum Up | reviews, news & interviews

Brighton Festival 2012: Waterlitz, Stuffing Peter Rabbit, War Sum Up

Brighton Festival 2012: Waterlitz, Stuffing Peter Rabbit, War Sum Up

An iron giant walks on while challenging premieres provoke walk-outs

'War Sum Up': ten singers trapped in a harsh electronic universeWar Sum Up images by Gunars Janaitis

As finales go, you can’t get much better than a pterodactyl flying from the torso of an iron giant and wheeling out over Brighton beach. Last night, as the 2012 Brighton Festival prepared to move into its final day, thousands gathered near the seafront for Waterlitz, the latest free, camera-phone defying outdoor spectacle from bonkers French company Générik Vapeur.

A 30-ton figure made from eight metal shipping containers, the structure could apparently be seen from neighbouring Rottingdean, looking like a cross between the Wicker Man and the Angel of the North.

It turned out to be more of a vast, human-shaped piñata, sporadically disgorging chunks of the planet’s history, from the dinosaurs to the titanic. Aerialists sailed down its front, cyclists rode out of its sides, fireworks exploded from its arms and, in one particularly memorable moment, Robin Hood burst, working bow in hand, from its head. There were serious points being made about man’s indomitable spirit in the wake of the Arab Spring. But when you’ve just seen a metal giant wee on Napoleon, there’s a lot of processing to do. (Waterlitz pictured below right)

Elsewhere this week the National Theatre of Scotland’s superb pub-set theatre ballad The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Lockheart brought storytelling at its most transcendent to popular karaoke joint Horatio’s Bar on the pier, while a Brighton Festival Fringe production of Arnold Wesker’s The Mistress attracted a visit from the Hove-based playwright himself. It was, we heard him say, only the second he’d ever seen.

But it began with a visit to Hendricks Gin’s Library of Delightfully Peculiar Writings, a tent decked out like a decadent antiquarian’s study serving live literature with an often twisted twist. In this case the event was Stuffing Peter Rabbit, a cross between Jackanory and live taxidermy performed to an audience including several goths and a uniformed postman who eagerly volunteered to help skin the feet. Lee Paton, surely the only person ever to have been kicked off eBay for trying to flog an albatross, is a fashion designer who trained in taxidermy to provide himself with outlandish materials. Beatrix Potter isn’t known for her verbosity, so he had made a few eviscerated torsos earlier to speed things up a bit. "That’s bulging nicely," Paton said as the rabbit’s eyeball started to give way and the stylish audience took another collective swig of gin.

Peter Rabbit (pictured left by Lisa Wormsley) managed to hold on to his audience, if not the contents of his own stomach. But elsewhere two of the Brighton Festival’s UK premieres suffered notable walk-outs. CMMN SNS PRJKT, by mischievous double act Argentine Laura Kalauz and Swiss Martin Schick, was an absurdist riff on commerce, free trade and what place they leave for human feeling. It started losing people when, appearing to forget their script, the duo started exploring the notion of stealing time.

Less comprehensible was the scattered exodus throughout the extraordinary Brighton Festival exclusive War Sum Up. Surely only the open-minded buy tickets for a show billed as a multimedia opera on the nature of war, mashing modern-day Manga with the ancient Japanese theatre form of Noh?

Created by Danish company Hotel Pro Forma, composed by Latvian Santa Ratniece, French electronic artist Gilbert Nouno and the UK’s high camp pop orchestra The Irrepressibles, and performed by the Latvian Radio Choir to the art of Hikaru Hayashi, this could have been a multi-collaborative dog’s dinner. But the conceptual precision was startling.

Ten singers stood in rigid white costumes on a two-level grid, trapped between front and back projections in a harsh electronic universe. Bright white lines crept towards the figures as they began to sing, lacerating them with light. Manga images of guns, explosions, robotic forms and sound effects (KRNK!) erupted around them, disembodying the voices. Meanwhile the ancient Noh poetry of the libretto rang with mythic power: "rain as descending arrows, the moon as a flashing sword, mountains as iron castles, clouds as banners of battle…"

Representing its effects through three highly stylised characters (a soldier with PTSD, a warrior descending to the underworld and a spy who transforms herself into Super Woman), this brutal aesthetic fusion of ancient and modern, man and machine was one of the most chilling treatments of war I’ve ever seen – and sometimes eerily beautiful. Finally our attention was directed to the stage front, where an unobtrusive pile of upended tables and chairs, suddenly lit from the front, cast the unmistakeable outline of a tank.

The final lesson of this most surreal of shows? Normality is no refuge from the omnipresent shadow of war. Oh, and woe betide you if your bravest booking happens to coincide with the hottest day of the year.

Read all Bella Todd's Brighton Festival reports

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This brutal aesthetic fusion of ancient and modern, man and machine was one of the most chilling treatments of war I’ve ever seen

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