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Festival Review Seaside specials

TANUSHKA MARAH, JOE GILL and LUAN BLAKE look back at some of the more innovatory shows at the Brighton Festival

BRYONY KIMMINGS, the groundbreaking solo artist who famously traced her own sexual history on stage in pursuit of an STI’s origin, returned with I’m A Phoenix, Bitch — her first new show in nearly a decade — at The Attenborough Centre.

Based on her own post-natal depression, mental illness, losing a partner and nearly losing a child might sound unappealing but this extraordinary theatre experience, with moments of hilarity and surprise, is cutting-edge performance art.

To say Kimmings is ballsy is an understatement. Standing ferocious and funny in her cycling shorts and gym vest, she invites the audience to have a good look at her camel foot so they are not distracted later. Nothing is hidden.

From applying make-up while singing, frying bacon, filming miniature images and lifting heavy weights, Kimmings doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to passion, energy and storytelling.

Abigail Doolan and Emma Edwards— aka A&E — trailblazed the way for a new kind of feminist comedy in WitchHunt at The Warren. Bawdy and brilliant, it boldly goes where women of a certain age have hitherto rarely ventured.

WitchHunt takes a hugely irreverent swing at the fairytale hag to upturn some familiar sexist stereotypes, using a bare-all goblin puppet, magic and what Edwards calls Doolan’s “hanging gardens of Babylon” to hilarious effect.

The pair have an infectious onstage chemistry and repartee, with Edwards’s robot girlfriend — all exaggerated curves and demented sexbot language — a particular highlight.

My Left Right Foot: The Musical at the Theatre Royal, Brighton puts the audience in an awkward position — are we watching a typical West End musical taking the mickey out of disability?

In it, an amateur dramatics group with a losing streak is desperate to win an award and decide to rehash My Left Foot, the drama about Christy Brown, the Irish writer with cerebral palsy made famous by Daniel Day Lewis.

They’ve got it all worked out. A preening failed actor who’s able-bodied plays Brown and hams it up in a wheelchair, with advice from caretaker Chris. Unlike the rest of the cast, he actually has the condition.

It’s a perfectly patronising and discriminatory drama, ignoring the golden representational rule: “Nothing about us, without us.”

The National Theatre of Scotland and Birds of a Feather production has rightly garnered rave reviews for its hilarious send-up of wrongheaded and well-meaning am-dram types doing the equivalent of blacking up for Hamilton.

It’s uncomfortable and funny, with some great songs.

In Silence, staged on the seafront, a death-like masked figure in purple silk robes stalks on stilts across an empty outdoor car park, past a gutted bus straight from a Middle East war.

A group of lost-looking civilians with doll children emerge from the bus, only to be terrorised by Mad Max-style militia men wielding fire wheels.

This explosive piece of expressionist theatre by Polish company Teatr Biuro Podrozy is a requiem to those victimised by war and those who flee, referencing the sacking of Troy as it viscerally conjures the wastelands of Iraq and Syria.

The bus is set alight while the child dolls bear witness to the horrors.

The staging, in the concrete and graffitied space next to Brighton’s marina, was spectacular. Many of the ideas, unformed and sometimes repetitive, felt naive in execution. But the message was bold, brave and necessary.

The Berlin company — actually from Antwerp — created a masterpiece of perfectly crafted and executed performance with True Copy at the Attenborough Centre.

An amalgam of theatre and documentary film, it tells the life story of Geert Jan Jansen, an art forger for over 20 years who created more than 1,600 works by the likes of Matisse, Picasso and Dali.

The story is utterly compelling and you instantly warm to the charm, wit, cheek and sheer talent of the artist.

It’s a robust investigation into the value of authenticity, the value of art versus the value of truth and the hypocrisy in the world of high art.

The show included a live auction of one of Geert’s fake Picassos and an exploration of truth and lies ensues, leading to a major revelation.

A must-see, if you get the chance.


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