fri 25/09/2020

Periplum 451, Preston Barracks, Brighton | reviews, news & interviews

Periplum 451, Preston Barracks, Brighton

Periplum 451, Preston Barracks, Brighton

Enthralling and free outdoor spectacular based on Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel

An unfortunate book-lover receives the flamethrower treatmentAll photos © David Flack

Free events at celebratory citywide occasions such as the Brighton Festival are a mixed blessing. Unfortunately, the fact they’re free means we’re supposed to be thankful even when they’re actually a bit ramshackle and rubbish. We are British, after all, and “putting up with” is a national characteristic.

Free events at celebratory citywide occasions such as the Brighton Festival are a mixed blessing. Unfortunately, the fact they’re free means we’re supposed to be thankful even when they’re actually a bit ramshackle and rubbish. We are British, after all, and “putting up with” is a national characteristic. It’s great, then, to be able to report that the hour-long adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s famous dystopian 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, by local open air theatre crew Periplum, was a truly enjoyable success.

Preston Barracks was originally set up to counter possible Napoleonic invasion then, throughout the Victorian era, was home to cavalry regiments. Photos exist of the survivors of the charge of the Light Brigade posing within its confines. During the latter decades of the 20th Century it was whittled down, then much of it was sold to a supermarket. The remaining Preston Barracks, to be redeveloped during the coming year by nearby Brighton University, was sold to the council in the 1990s and is now a wasteland surrounded by sealed, graffiti-decorated buildings. Perfect, it turns out, for Periplum, whose work has something of Mutoid Waste Company’s Mad Max-goes-to-Glastonbury visual ethos.

The idea of burning human ideas in paper form still has huge resonance

Starting at 9.45pm, to ensure darkness, the space is lit with flaming torches and before the show begins cheery, festive crowd conversation is drowned out by distorted speeches and very loud jet noises via a Tannoy-style speaker system. Brilliantly, given the flat lay-out, and the fact we’re not facing a single stage, the action takes place all around us on scaffolding and poles (the latter topped with TV aerials). The gymnastic cast are constantly clambering about on them.

Bradbury’s novel – and the touchstone François Truffaut film from 1966 – concern a totalitarian society where books are banned and “firemen” go about burning any that can be found. The idea of burning human ideas in paper form still has huge resonance, despite our iPads and information-age technology. Thus, to a suitably theatening gothic soundtrack, initially announced by a lone violinist, militaristic Stalinist police state figures hold aloft burning books while their leader chants that “books are banned, reading is forbidden.”

periplum 451One book is thrown aloft to explode. The police, looking like a fascist Daft Punk in mirrored helmets, ride amongst the crowd on three wonderful vehicles that combine giant cartwheels with ladders from which they shine spotlights on us, as in a prison camp. A friend’s teenage son, who was looking the wrong way, almost got run over by one, only adding to the sense of the drama being very present.

The story, loosely framed, concerns “fireman” Guy Montag’s struggles with the book laws and gradual realisation of the kind of state he’s living in. Along the way, book-readers are relentlessly pursued and we see one chased to a book-lined podium that explodes into fiery life as she sacrifices herself amid the flames. Police using flame-throwers are a constant theme, as are chanted slogans, such as the thought-provoking “Happiness is more important than knowledge.” The action culminates in multiple fireworks lighting up the space and an eye-wowing tickertape shower, hammering home the climatic sequence. Bradbury's work is a harsh tale, although with more light in it than 1984, but tonight the hard edges were worked into a ferocious spectacular that boasted a ravey, industrial theatre, both visually entertaining and potent.

The police, looking like a fascist Daft Punk in mirrored helmets, ride amongst the crowd on wonderful vehicles that combine giant cartwheels with ladders from which they shine spotlights

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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