A pick of some of the theatre shows being performed in actual theatre spaces in front of actual live audiences at this year’s Brighton Fringe
Against the odds, Brighton Fringe is back for 2021. Nudged forward a little later than originally planned, it runs from 28 May to 27 June (and a bit beyond), with a diverse programme ranging from theatre and circus to comedy, cabaret and music. With social distancing still in place until at least 21 June, the festival is going ahead with a mix of live events and online. Here we pick out some of the highlights of theatre that can be enjoyed live in person in venues around Brighton.
Blue Devil Productions returns to Brighton Fringe with The Tragedy of Dorian Gray, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s ever-popular story. Updated to the Swinging Sixties, it finds Dorian having his portrait painted in Chelsea, leading to a story of fame, vanity, lust and corruption. The cast includes Max Polling as Dorian with Kace Monney, Tara Clark, Christopher Sherwood, Tom Taplin and Heather Alexander. It will be available to watch online from 28 May to 27 June as well as live in person.
29 May to 24 June: Rialto Theatre
Ever-youthful drag artist Topsie Redfern (aka Nathan Kiley) is, remarkably, turning 40, and this has led them to think about their roots – their greying, musical and cultural roots, especially their Irish Traveller heritage. In autobiographical show Topsie Redfern’s Crystal Balls, directed by Sarah Chew, Redfern recalls their great-grandmother who ran away from her bourgeois roots, married a Traveller, and became a famous fortune teller, Madam Olga, whose clients included Nancy Astor, the UK’s first female MP, and Alan Turing, the gay genius who cracked the Enigma Code.
31 May to 25 June: The Curzon
Mark Inscoe will take us on a journey into the careers, friendship and playful rivalry of Noël Coward and Cole Porter, two song-writing theatrical giants of the 20th century, in his show, The World in Words and Music, According to Coward and Porter. Mainly focusing on their passion for travel, he will perform alongside Joshua Mills on the piano.
1 to 6 June: The Warren: The Oil Shed
In Touch Hunger, Ali Hannon and Clare Plumley will guide audiences through a series of live art experiences to explore our human senses via spoken word, eating, improv and a little interspecies interaction. Although nobody is actually asked to touch anyone else during the show, it asks questions such as how do we replicate intimacy with other people in this time without touch, and do we need touch to survive. It is performed outdoors and requires you to bring a smartphone and your own headphones.
29 May to 19 June: Friends’ Meeting House
Mark Stratford is bringing two shows to Brighton Fringe this year. With storytelling and physical theatre skills, he plays all the characters in his version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Then in Drama King, he charts the life and times of William Charles Macready, one of the greatest actor-managers of the 19th century.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: 5 to 12 June: Rialto Theatre
Drama King: 6 to 13 June: Rialto Theatre
Award-winning actor Emily Carding will present her sci-fi solo show, Quintessence, inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. After the human race has been wiped out, an AI has been left behind to recreate humanity when the time is right, with only the complete works of Shakespeare as a guide to the human spirit. Humanity must thrive but at what cost?
7 to 13 June: Sweet Werks: Werks Main
One of Shakespeare’s supporting characters takes centre stage in Fiction Romance from Fetch Theatre. With his love for Sebastian, Antonio in Twelfth Night is often considered Shakespeare’s most openly gay character. Directed and written by John Knowles, the show explores his hidden desires and yearning for love, with Patrick Kealey as Antonio.
9 to 13 June: Sweet Old Steine: Steine Main
In Waiting for Hamlet, King Hamlet and his fool, Yorick, are languishing in limbo, waiting for Shakespeare’s procrastinating prince to get revenge on murderous Claudius. They have to decide whether to take action or let it lie, which turns out to be complicated. It is presented by Smokescreen Productions which is also bringing Bert Coules’ show, Watson: The Final Problem, to Brighton Fringe, with Tim Marriott telling the story of Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick.
Waiting for Hamlet: 5 to 20 June: Rialto Theatre
Watson: 12 to 17 June: Rialto Theatre
Prison Dialogues consists of interweaving male and female dialogues set in the everyday life of prison. Described as surreal, sweary and strangely fun, it is written by Mark C Hewitt, whose last Brighton Fringe play, The Revenge Fantasy Club, was shortlisted for the best new play award. Loosely informed by the writer’s observations while working as an artist in UK prisons, it is performed by Leann O’Kasi, Sarah J Lewis, Araba Jane, Connor Mills and Sonny Jaiteh, with incidental music by Peter Copley.
28 May to 3 June: The Lantern @ ACT
Drag artist Lady Christina faces a crisis in Make-up. After another performance in another venue above a pub, she is growing tired of drag. As she takes off her make-up, the face in the mirror takes Christopher Laneghan back to the life he lived before she came along. Can he live, if living is without her?
11 to 13 June: Rialto Theatre
Clean: The Musical tells the tales of women of the so-called “Laundry Hill” area of Brighton from 1870, presenting a rousing celebration of women’s resilience and sisterhood through difficult times. Themes include suffrage, sexuality, abuse, bereavement, mental health and the smallpox outbreak in 1950. It is written by Sam Chittenden with music by Simon Scardanelli. It is also available to watch online from 28 May to 27 June.
11 to 13 June: One Church Brighton, Gloucester Place
Cabaret star Sarah-Louise Young celebrates legendary singer Julie Andrews in her acclaimed Off Broadway and West End hit Julie Madly Deeply. Alongside performing songs from musicals including Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady, she tells stories about Andrews’ own life but also shares why Andrews means so much to her.
11-13 June: The Warren: The Oil Shed
Brighton Fringe offers another chance to catch award-winning show Sound Cistem from Plaster Cast Theatre, in which two transgender performers say, “Up yours!” to the gender binary, and invite you to their radical dance party. Under disco lights, over pulsing music, a queer celebration takes place. Set in nightclubs, Sound Cistem is an exuberant verbatim show about the cisgender gaze on the transgender body.
14-16 June: The Warren: The Oil Shed
Olivier Award winner Guy Masterson – the great-nephew of Welsh actor Richard Burton – celebrates the genius of Dylan Thomas in his show, Fern Hill and Other Dylan Thomas. As well as performing some of the Welsh poet’s finest verse, he delivers two short stories, A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Holiday Memory.
19 to 20 June: Rialto Theatre
Giraffe-limbed clown and raconteur Elf Lyons brings two of her shows to Brighton Fringe. Old favourite, Swan, sees her attempt a one-woman production of Swan Lake – in an hour, in French (sort of). Her newer show, Elf Lyons’s House of Horrors, serves up an evening of ghouls, ghosts and gruesome tales of terror alongside guest comedians, drag artists, poets and other performers.
Swan: 19 to 20 June: The Warren: The McElderry
House of Horrors: 20 June: The Warren: The McElderry
Visit brightonfringe.org for details about venues and dates.