Reviews from the Brighton Festival

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Beowulf by Banana Bag and Bodice, Spiegeltent, Brighton Festival

I have always enjoyed the Spiegeltent. You never quite know what you’re going to get and Brooklyn based arts collective Banana Bag and Bodice’s Brechtian deconstruction of Beowolf is a case in point.

This wonderfully mad evening combined dirty Dixieland Jazz, Berlin Cabaret, Old Norse and musings on narrative and masculinity, water tanks and Star Wars action figures in an eclectic melange.

Banana Bag and Bodice specialise in works which engage the audience in a dialogue with the performers on the awkwardness of the human condition. In Beowulf they set up a fictional lecture given by students to an audience. As the event progresses, the lecture gradually comes to life and the students take on the personas of the characters in the story. Gradually the lecture falls to the wayside and a jazz cabaret interpretation of the Beowulf story plays merry havoc around the whole tent. The audience become the Danish warriors in the mead halls, as a portly, bespectacled and balding Beowulf finger-fights a nerdy blond Grendel.

Particular mention must go to Jessica Jelliffe who is co-found and co-artistic director. Her wonderful and soulful singing, as she cradles her dying son in her arms, and the passion and anger with which she tears into Beowulf was remarkable.

Andy Warren

Emil and The Detectives, Duke of York’s, Brighton Festival

A lost film, this 1935 screen version of Erich Kästner’s novel was recently found by the British Film Institute and restored.

Moving the story from Berlin to London, Emil takes a train to London and has his money stolen (after being given a drugged sweet) by a shady stranger. The boy then enlists the help of a gang of children who track the thief.

A charming black and white film incorporating early special effects and a few silent scenes, the movie also portrays attitudes to children that seem surprising or shocking now. For example, Emil and his gang are allowed to roam the streets of London at all hours and are offered cigarettes as treats by adults. They do, of course, band together effectively to beat the dastardly thief and win the day.

Brian Warren

When Does A Comic Become A Graphic Novel? Brighton Dome Studio Theatre,

A spirited debate on comics, graphic novels, illustrated books, printed cartoons and similar artforms failed to really answer the central question, although it was entertaining and enlightening.

The four artists and writers involved: Woodrow Phoenix, Nye Bright, Hannah Berry and Tim Pilcher, who chaired the panel, discussed their own work and approach to storytelling through images and scripts rather than relying entirely on the written word.

They did share a dislike of digital comics, especially semi-animated comics, as being different from printed versions. The examples of comics and graphic novels on view throughout the event showed the range of art that can be expressed through this visual medium, including a poster-sized bound comic produced by Woodrow Phoenix that is currently a one-off and has not been reproduced, making it a “comic” that is limited to one reader at a time.

Brian Warren