wed 17/08/2022

Brighton Festival 2012: Interiors, Motor Show, Land's End | reviews, news & interviews

Brighton Festival 2012: Interiors, Motor Show, Land's End

Brighton Festival 2012: Interiors, Motor Show, Land's End

Vanessa Redgrave tells the story of an Arab woman. Elsewhere it's all about voyeurism

Vanishing Point's 'Interior': a wintry dinner party unfold wordlesslyTim Morozzo

From theatre viewed through peepholes and camera obscuras to a dance piece you watch across a wasteland while wearing headphones, this year the Brighton Festival and Brighton Festival Fringe seem to be fixated with ways of seeing. Hot on the heels of the premiere of dreamthinkspeak’s fishbowl Hamlet came a revival of Vanishing Point’s gorgeous Interior, in which we watched a wintry dinner party unfold wordlessly through the windows of the house.

Inside, they ate, drank and danced, felt irritation and fondness, loneliness and love. Outside, polar bears prowled and a melancholy moon slowly swelled and sank. It was a piece that seemed to glow with humanity as death pressed its nose up jealously to the glass.

When it comes to exploring audience voyeurism, David Rosenberg is the glazing salesman of theatreland thanks to 2010’s Electric Hotel. Motor Show, his second collaboration with choreographer Frauke Requardt, which premiered at the Brighton Festival this week and will move on to the Norfolk and Norwich and Greenwich+Docklands festivals, plays a similar game with intimacy and distance. The headphones are out again, serving up slammed doors and slurped kisses, warped dialogue and a narcoleptic, a Lynchian version of AC/DC’s "Hell’s Bells" straight to your ears in unnerving stereo. But this time you watch through car windscreens and across a wind-whipped wasteland – in Brighton’s case the fabled seafront dogging spot of Black Rock, which proved an inspired choice.

Motor Show (pictured right) is a dislocated, desolate dance involving the cars as well as their passengers, and is most striking when the two intertwine: seven chauffeurs fold unnaturally out of a tiny caravan, oozing and expanding onto the tarmac; two lust-filled lovers feed their bodies in and out of their car windows, like eels writhing through a shipwreck. Quite possibly it’s all one big motorised riff on Eliot’s The Waste Land. But as with Electric Hotel, what you watch too often feels like an afterthought. The surrealism seems forced, the images of bleak beauty as manipulatively stylised as a music video, and there’s an unpleasant aftertaste of expensive emptiness. For me the most genuine elegiac moments came with the intermittent passing of the Number 7 to Asda.

The Fringe offered the perfect antidote on Saturday morning as I stood on sun-baked shingle, enveloped by the dying drone of a sea shanty and the smell of the neighbouring whelk stand, and watched a puppet show about drowned sailors through a barnacle-crusted spy-hole. Kissing The Gunner’s Daughter is part of Dip Your Toe, a charming yet bold Brighton Festival Fringe project in which work has been commissioned for six replica Victorian bathing machines. The purpose of bathing machines, of course, was to conceal yourself, resulting in an informal running theme of seeing and the sea. Down towards the West Pier, Seth Kriebel and Zoe Bouras have converted his bathing machine into a camera obscura to tell his own miniature Odyssey in Vivascope. As he turned the wheel, real-time Brighton began to pool magically on the round table between us. This was relatively basic Victorian technology, yet we felt like Greek gods around a divining pool. 

Fans of vintage mechanics would also have enjoyed Land’s End, brought to the main festival by Berlin Theatre Group (who, rather confusingly, hail from Antwerp), on their first visit to the UK. Interchanging filmed interviews with staged dialogue, this playful, philosophical and thoroughly European piece relayed the stranger-than-fiction story of a murder trial in which a Belgian woman was accused of hiring a French man to dispose of her cheating husband, forcing the authorities to set up court in a farmstead that exactly straddled the national border. The experience began with a wander round a set of whimsical mechanical installations that soon revealed themselves to be machines for getting away with murder. There was a cog-driven coffee poisoner, a robotic hand to prompt a tumble down the stairs… and something involving hairdryers and live goldfish, at which point it wasn’t just the vegans who started to get a little uneasy, and Wallace & Gromit began to seem less and less of a useful critical touchpoint.

What this year’s Guest Director has been making of all this we’ve yet to hear. But she ended the first week last night "with a full heart" and full collection buckets following her staged reading of Wadad Makdisi Cortas’ memoir A World I Loved: The Story of an Arab Woman. In festival terms this was Vanessa Redgrave getting what she wanted. In artistic terms it was an elegantly presented insight into an intensely complicated chunk of world history, movingly framed with personal statements by Cortas’ daughter Mariam C Said (wife of Edward) and granddaughter Najla, and beautifully accompanied by members of the Middle East-spanning West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Fair play.

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