Skip to content


Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Brighton '09 arrow Postcard from Brighton: May 5
Postcard from Brighton: May 5
Written by Richard Stamp   
Published on Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Unscheduled Beethoven, unscripted comedy - and a totally unprecedented subterranean tour.  Has FringeGuru gone down the plug hole?  Find out in today's Postcard.

If you've been following on Twitter, you'll be up to speed on Monday's journalistic adventure, when I set out to report on a riot but (ahem) couldn't actually find it.  Fortunately local trumpet the Argus - who I strongly suspect of having done this kind of thing before - managed rather better than me.  The story's splashed today over pages 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, but the best-quote award goes to "Jim BB" from Brighton... who chastises the demonstrators, caught on camera throwing bottles at the police, for wasting perfectly good recyclables.

The crisis may be over, but the on-stage drama rolls on.  So here's the Postcard from another busy day in Brighton.

5 starsThe Brighton Sewer Tour

Dates available throughout the year - see Southern Water's website.

There are those moments in life when realization dawns: when your stomach sinks and you ask yourself, "what have I done?"  I had one of those moments today, just after I'd put on a hard hat and gloves, as an iron door clanged shut behind me and the safety briefing began.  It was then that I finally grasped that - yes - I had signed up for a hike through sewer.

OK, the title Brighton Sewer Tour should have been a give-away.  But I'd been expecting a sewer "experience": a few exhibits, an audio guide, perhaps a window you could look through to see the effluent beyond.  It's so not like that.  Believe me, though, it's so much better.

The small army of guides are all real Southern Water engineers, who plainly relish their auxiliary tour-leading role: the unchallenged stars of the show, they cheerfully play off each other and the crowd in a well-rehearsed routine.  In a patter refreshingly free of dates and names, they focus on the system's practical curiosities, from the natural spring water which seeps through the walls to the sea-borne barnacles which stud the tunnel roof.

For the technically-minded there's a chance to appreciate the Victorian engineering, as you walk through the vast tanks and tunnels used to carry overflow rainwater after a storm.  (Yes, you're really in the tunnels - the tour can't run after heavy rain.)  As the guides map out your course underground, you can start to picture how these vast channels connect, and grasp the elegant splendour of the century-old design.

For many, though, the highlight will be the torchlit foray through the main storm drain, topped by a climb up through a manhole onto Old Steine.  You've seen it in the movies - now you can do it for real; and in an increasingly sanitized world, such experiences are rare indeed.  I realise not everyone will want to follow me into a sewer... but if you're at all tempted, don that hard hat and grab the chance while you can.

This slightly adventurous tour requires an average level of mobility.  Many of the passages are low and narrow, so think carefully if you're at all claustrophobic - and if, like me, you're afraid of heights, you'll find some short stretches challenging.  My particular thanks to Southern Water's communications department and to all the tour guides for their assistance and understanding.

Beethoven chamber music series

May 12, 19; 1:10pm (50 min); The Chapel Royal

If my day ended in the sewer, it started in the clouds.  I happened to notice - beetling along North Street en route to the sandwich shop - that a lunchtime classical recital was about to begin.  I won't star-rate this one because, to be honest, I'm not qualified, but that's one of the joys of the Festival: anyone can wander along the street, see a sign up at a venue and end up trying something new.

The impressively-proportioned Chapel Royal's hosting weekly Beethoven this year, and the programme was kicked off by the up-and-coming Greenwich Trio performing Opus 1 No. 1.  The spirited rendition was welcomed by a packed house - proving that, here at least, classical music is very much still alive.

4.5 starsOff the Cuff Improv

9, 16 May; 1pm; Cella @ Sanctuary Cafe

If Beethoven was refined, and the sewer tour was just plain weird, today's final show is what Fringe Festivals are really all about.  A local group of actors, doing their thing in a basement - on a shoe-string budget, with no pretensions, and mostly for fun.  You simply can't get closer to the spirit of the Fringe.

And you know what?  I loved it.  Off The Cuff's brand of improvised comedy was entertaining from first to last; the surprisingly large ensemble had no weak links, the energy was infectious and the pace was fast.

In case you've never been to an improv show before, here's the way it works.  A chairman - in this case, the magnificently genial Dougie - announces the theme of the next sketch, then the audience calls out, let's say, an opening line or a theatrical style.  And the cast, with no preparation and no conferring, jumps into it there and then.  At times their task seems impossible: how could you possibly enact Three Blind Mice in the style of a classical musician?  But enacted it was, unhesitatingly and hilariously, in just one of the dozen or so fast-paced "games" making up the 90-minute show.

My favourite game, I think, was "half-life", where a single scene was repeated faster and faster: the creative energy just kept on flowing as the plot was abridged and embellished in each run.  "Room 101", based on the TV show, was great too, as the "host" tried to coax the "guest" into uttering a word agreed in secret.  It went on and on, got funnier and funnier, and when the key word "comb-over" finally came out, the applause threatened to bring the roof down.

A couple of misfires come with the territory at this kind of show, but in a good hour-and-a-half of acting I don't recall a single true dud.  If I made one comment, it would be that the final game - "should have said" - wasn't a good one to end on; a bit too dependent on the audience, it didn't give the ensemble a final chance to shine.

But that's picky; all in all, this was a wonderful show.  I left heartened, exhilarated, and so pleased I'd made the trip along the sea front for a touch of the magic of the Fringe.

I'm reaching the halfway mark of my trip to Brighton, but there's still so much to see.  Tomorrow, comedy and tragedy take their turn on the stage.  Catch up with you in the Postcard!

<< Postcard from Brighton: M...   Postcard from Brighton: M... >>


These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2009.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

Current reviews >>