Lynn Ruth Miller

In May, Brighton is transformed into a town filled with art, music and drama on every corner tucked into churches, cellars and the backs of bars. People from all over the country and indeed the world gather to sample the best and the worse performance art can offer. This is my fourth year performing and experiencing the excitement of the Brighton Festivals and it has been by far the most invigorating….so much more is happening….so many new venues and special events are popping up.
Much of the bustle and hoopla has been generated by the new director of the Brighton Fringe, Julian Caddy. His own enthusiasm for this marvellous yearly extravaganza has infused new excitement into all of us who are part of the event. Rachel Strange is managing the weekly Fringe City and you can preview most of the shows there every Saturday afternoon to see what you want to check out and what might interest you if only there were 28 hours in the day.
I arrived May first and went to see Des O’Conner in VIVE LE CABARET at Komedia that Thursday. Des O’Conner is producing several outstanding shows at Komedia this May including M. B, The Gentleman Rhymer and Mat Ricardo’s THREE BALLS AND A NEW SUIT, the show that the Herald and Fringe guru gave five stars. All these shows are polished entertainment, and a treat to see. Mr. B. has his audience jumping up and down and singing along as if they all had ingested Mexican Jumping Beans for dinner. Des O’Conner himself is a master performer and charms an audience the moment he steps on a stage. Whenever |I see his name I run to get a ticket and you should do the same. At his solo show last Monday I sat next to his partner who is about to give birth to their baby girl. Whenever the baby’s daddy took to the stage, the infant-to-be kicked and bounced with such vigour, I thought she would choose that very moment to emerge into the world clapping and cheering for Daddy Des as well he deserved….I was all ready to rush to the kitchen for boiling water and towels, but the tiny foetus of a girl decided it was prudent to remain in utero waiting out the next couple weeks before she will emerge no doubt singing, dancing and playing the guitar. It’s got to be in those genes.
I managed to fit in Rose Collis’s TROUSER-WEARING CHARACTERS that Friday at the Marlboro Theatre. This is a well-paced, fact filled one woman show about women who liked to wear trousers and men who did anyway…all connected to Brighton in some way or another. Collis tells us about her favourite Brighton personalities in a mix of music, quotations and monologue. My favourite part of the show was Collis singing and playing the banjo. She has a charming voice and a delightful delivery. I could have done with a little less dialogue…it was often a bit lengthy …..but all in all the show has just about all anyone can ask: interesting content, great energy and music that makes you beg for more. TROUSER-WEARING CHARACTERS continues through May 20 at The Marlboro Theatre. Collis has books to sell and endless stories about Brighton. Be sure to chat with her after the show. …and don’t forget to wear your trousers….that’s what all independent women have a right to do these days. Collis reminds us of the days when female attire was strictly proscribed and trousers, white shirts and ties were not an option…they were an outrage.
In all the years I have been coming to Brighton I have never seen THE LADY BOYS and decided this year to bite the bullet and see what all the hysteria was about. I grabbed my landlady and off we went to see a lot of pretty boys in ladies’ finery. The entire experience is the most commercial I have experienced in Brighton. At every turn we are assaulted with souvenirs to buy, Thai food to eat and loud music pounding in our ears. Fortunately, both my landlady and I are deaf so we managed to avoid the head aches I am sure the rest of the audience suffered the morning after. The show itself is fast paced, loud and bursting with glitz. The costumes are glitter, feathers and flounce and the lady boys are decked out like the tarts they wish they were. Sadly, these young men cannot speak English and the songs they sang meant absolutely nothing to them. They parroted the sounds some director taught them and went through the motions like robots, not quite getting into it because, poor souls, they had no idea what “it” was.
The audience cheered and laughed and smirked at the smutty innuendos just like a good audience should, but it felt like I was at the zoo or in a circus watching well trained animals jump through hoops. I had to keep reminding myself that these were human beings singing and dancing. As I watched them, I realized that although they were indeed giving us plenty of song and dance with all the decorative flash and flutter we deserved for £25 pounds a head, those young lads in burlesque skirts weren’t having fun. Somehow, the whole experience seemed hollow and empty to me. I had the same reaction have when someone has taught their dog to beg: How clever, how cute…but I wouldn’t pay £25 to see him do it no matter how fancy his collar.
I know I am greedy, but I want my entertainment to be fun and I want the people on stage to know what the hell they are saying so they get the expression right. My landlady left at the interval but I stayed hoping I would find a bit of substance in the second act.
I did not.
And I will be back with more observations next time on some marvellous drama , the best I have seen ever at a fringe venue.