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Postcard from Brighton: May 8

In today's penultimate Postcard: Richard communes with the dead, ponders pollution and learns to give world music a chance.  It's been another busy day in Brighton!

It's my final full day in Brighton today, and my visit's been all too brief.  I've really warmed to the city, and to the Festival; it's relaxed and manageable, but you can still pack it in if you choose to.

And my goodness, I packed it in today.  The show doesn't run around the clock in the way that it does in Edinburgh, but I still found enough to occupy a solid 12 hours - with five events, a bit of art and the occasional mad sprint from one venue to another.  Here's the first batch of reviews from my last day in town.

4.5 starsElectroplasm

9, 10 May; 9:40, 10:50 and 11:55 (1 hr); Marlborough Little Theatre

There's an error in the printed Fringe programme: Electroplasm is running until Sunday 10 May, not Saturday as stated.

No matter how many shows I see, or how weary of it all I grow, there's always something at the Fringe I've never done before.  The oddball, fascinating Electroplasm packs two such experiences into one hour-long event - combining spookily other-worldly music with a chance to relive our ancestors' attempts to contact the "other side".  These two halves are, to be honest, only tenuously linked; but each alone is interesting enough that I'll forgive the bolted-together feel of the resulting show.

First up came local musician duo Spacedog, performing (and I quote their website) "electronic interpretations of tales of necromancers".  I'd been almost as sceptical about this proposition as I am about the afterlife, but from the very start of the haunting opening number I found myself drawn into Spacedog's surreally spooky world.  Heavy on samples and clashing tones, the programme had a dark and morbid edge - combining, for example, a harmless nursery rhyme with that most-feared bogeyman of my own childhood, the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water.  Some of it, I suspect, was tongue-in-cheek, but other parts were truly moving.

To complement Jenny Angliss' impressive vocals, she and sister Sarah had brought along a stageful of bizarre music-making apparatus - including their own electronic bell-tower, which you have to see to understand, and a thrillingly sinister animated doll.  Star of the show, though, was the theremin.  Better known as "the thing that makes the funny noise in Good Vibrations", the theremin's an instrument played without physical contact, by skilled movement of the hands through an electrical field.  It was fascinating to watch, and the nerve-jangling electronic sound was a perfect match for the evening's tone.

The second part of the event was even more off-the-wall.  In a short reconstruction of a Victorian seance, led by paranormal expert Dr Richard Wiseman, the whole audience linked hands around a table before a blowing out a solitary candle.  In complete darkness, we concentrated together on the objects on the table, calling on the spirit of a long-dead actress to enter the theatre again.  It was, I'll admit, a little bit scary, but Dr Wiseman's jovial patter was reassuring and the experience was both interesting and fun.

So did the spirits visit us?  The believers in the room certainly thought they had; the non-believers left, I think, both entertained and intrigued.  For my part, I'll say that something happened - something very odd - and that since I had Dr Wiseman physically in my grasp, I don't see how he can have caused it.  I don't believe in spirits, and I'm pretty sure it was a trick.  But I still felt a presence; I sensed something passing over me, and it's hard to shake the feeling that another soul had joined us in the room.

4 starsAmandla (Parlure Free Lunchtime Concerts) 

See text for details of future performances 

Many, many hours before Electroplasm, my first stop of the day was the Parlure Spiegeltent on Old Steine, to sample the latest in their run of lunchtime concerts.  The concerts are completely free (though of course, they hope you'll use the bar), and it's got to be worth taking one in - if for no other reason than to enjoy the sumptuous interior of this antique travelling venue.

I cannot tell a lie: my heart sank when I realised African tribal music was on offer today.  But I learnt a lesson about trying something new, for local choir Amandla won me over through their sheer infectious joy.  By the end of the 45-minute set, the up-tempo numbers had me swinging in my seat in time with the performers on-stage, while the more reflective songs served all the more to highlight the beautiful harmonies the group achieved.  They were, by the way, a diverse mix of people - and the most surprising members turned out to have the most extraordinary voices.

You can hear Amandla again on Tuesday 12 May, at 7pm again at the Parlure, when they're doing the warm-up for the Africa Unite event.  For the programme for the rest of the free lunchtime concerts, see the Parlure's website.

Dirty Beach

Open until 30 May, 10am - 5pm daily; Cafe Delice, North Road

On my way into the Spiegeltent, I bumped into the two artists from Dirty Beach, a small exhibition on the top floor of a coffee shop on North Road.  I'd seen Dirty Beach a couple of days earlier, so it was lovely to have a chance to catch up with its creators.

As the title suggests, the exhibition's a commentary on marine pollution, and the two artists tackle the issue in radically different styles.  Lou McCurdy's work recycles plastic found on Brighton Beach into tapestry-like tableaux, themselves reflecting beach scenes.  I liked the works themselves - there's something inherently satisfying about their clever construction, and the three-dimensional nature of the materials gives the panels interest and depth.  I'm sorry to say, though, that as a comment on pollution it didn't really speak to me; maybe I'm just too cynical to be surprised by the rubbish Lou's beachcombing found.

In contrast to the permanence of Lou's plastic, Chloe Hanks' works are highly transient - made on the beach, photographed for posterity, then washed away by the tide.  I loved the ideas on display, ranging from arrangements of stones to stencilled messages in the snow, and the knowledge they'd all been made to be destroyed added an extra frisson to the display.  I was slightly less sure about some of the graffiti work - is it legitimate to criticize our careless approach to nature by defacing the man-made world? - so it was reassuring to hear from Chloe that her "eco-graffiti" washes away in three days.  As she points out, too, it's ironic that I question her work's modest impact - yet walk unseeingly past the defacement caused by plastic, brought in by the tide every day.

It's worth dropping into Cafe Delice to see this free exhibition, which is open every day until the end of the Festival.

In tomorrow's Postcard, I'll catch up on my Friday afternoon - a trip to the circus, a tour of the town, and a quick foray into the "official" Festival to check out the work of Anish Kapoor.  See you tomorrow!

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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.

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