ORGANISERS behind Brighton Festival have called this year’s offering a “resounding success” – and hinted at even better things to come.

After the festival came to a close on Sunday with a free public display of drama and fireworks, those involved are already looking forward to next year’s 50th anniversary event.

Andrew Comben, chief executive of Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival, said: “The festival’s continued ability to not only bring such an eclectic range of artists on to one bill but to make it a resounding success, is testament to the extraordinary support we have from funders, sponsors and from audiences themselves.

“It’s an exciting time for Brighton Festival as we look towards our 50th event next year.

“I cannot wait to lift the lid on what surprises we have in store for the city and beyond.”

With 396 performances across 150 events, including 34 free to the public, the festival featured its highest number of exclusives, premieres and commissions to date – 45 in all – including events that cannot be experienced anywhere else outside of the event.

These included Sam Lee’s Nightingale Walks on the Downs and Laurie Anderson’s one-off concert All The Animals, as well as the festival finale Fleeting.

Mr Comben added: “From the five stars across-the-board success of Richard Nelson’s extraordinary Apple Family Plays to the headline-grabbing performance of Kate Tempest and a very special personal appearance by newly Palme D’Or honoured Agnes Varda, this year really has been a festival to remember.”

Award-wining author Ali Smith was at the helm as guest director and the three-week festival saw many of her ideas, interests and passions explored in events spanning music, theatre, dance, visual art, film, literature and debate.

There were three central themes – art and nature, the crossing places between art forms, and taking liberty.

Mr Comben said: “Ali Smith has been an absolute pleasure to work with and a wonderful inspiration to us all.

“Her remarkable sense of possibility, wonder, imagination and excitement at anything that she encounters has been evident every step of the way, from her invaluable input during the programming process to her lively and engaging presence throughout the month.”

The opening weekend asked audiences to “take flight” for the annual Children’s Parade, the largest of its kind in Europe.

It traditionally marks the start of Brighton Festival and was attended by almost 5,000 children from 83 schools and community groups from across the region, each dressed in costumes taking inspiration from Ms Smith’s fascination with birds to make flying animals, machines, creatures from fantasy and fable, bugs, bees and butterflies.

As well as children taking flight, there were reviews in The Argus praising the artistic excellence of this year’s programme.

One of the festival’s biggest hits was the European premiere of Tony award-winning playwright Richard Nelson’s highly acclaimed Apple Family Plays.

The four-play cycle garnered glowing reviews in The Guardian and The Stage as well as this newspaper.

Others to do well were violinist Isabelle Faust’s feat of solo virtuosity at All Saints Church, Paine’s Plough’s poignant exploration of love and relationships in Lungs at the Roundabout pop-up theatre in Regency Square and Nina Conti’s improvised comedy at Theatre Royal Brighton.

Other highlights included Romeo and Juliet at Brighton Open Air Theatre, the performing space created in Dyke Road Park in memory of local writer Adrian Bunting, and high-octane dance show Underworld at the Corn Exchange.

The festival also reached out beyond the centre, working alongside Without Walls to present a number of family-friendly performances in Saltdean and Woodingdean as well as an enthralling outdoor theatre piece called 451 at Preston Barracks and a playful exhibition called Ear Trumpet in Queen’s Park.


Our pick of the best: Three reviewers give their festival highlights

Duncan Hall

Every Brilliant Thing 
THE pop-up venue Roundabout was an exciting new addition to this year’s festival, hosting four pieces of new writing, including the Argus Angel-winning Lungs. Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahue’s Every Brilliant Thing used the intimate space to perfection – employing audience members to help tell the life-affirming story.

The Beautiful of Ivor Cutler
IVOR Cutler was a true British eccentric, releasing albums and books of his poetry and music to a devoted audience. This show by Vanishing Point and the National Theatre Of Scotland was a loving celebration, tracing his life from early Glasgow childhood to descent into dementia.

Dawn Chorus
MARCUS Coates’ video installation was completely original and unique. Screens suspended around Fabrica showed people in their everyday lives tweeting and chirruping to match early morning birdsong. The positioning of the screens meant the audience was always looking around to catch someone new.

Jeanette Winterson
ONE of our country’s greatest living writers spent her time at Brighton Festival championing literature in a world where the imaginative written word is apparently being sidelined. She was a totally inspiring listen for both readers and writers.

Emma Yeomans

The Company of Wolves
THIS was the festival highlight for me – an outdoor theatre piece in Stanmer Park based on Angela Carter’s horror fable. Dark, dramatic and deliciously atmospheric, it was a brilliant performance. The actors, who interacted with the audience throughout the evening, didn’t even break character during the interval, creating a phenomenally immersive and exciting evening. Stanmer Park after dark was the perfect venue, and by the end every shivering leaf and flicker of moonlight was enough to send shivers down my spine.

Exoticism and Folk Music
VIOLIST Stephen Upshaw’s recital with pianist Veronika Trisko at Brighton Dome Studio Theatre showcased the viola’s unique tone and versatility. The programme was lively, lyrical and emotive. In the final item, Ernest Bloch’s Suite for Viola and Piano, Trisko’s sensitive accompaniment allowed the viola’s earthy tone to shine through.

Being Both
THIS was another inventive and challenging classical performance at Brighton Dome. Mezzo-Soprano Alice Cootes and director Susannah Waters explored their shared interest in gender within classical music, through a selection of Handel’s arias.

Ruth Scurr with Erica Wagner
THE author Scurr in conversation with critic Wagner was a fascinating insight into her writing process. Her biography, John Aubrey: My Own Life, is written like a diary, and on stage Scurr discussed his life with warmth and insight.

Adrian Imms

I GAVE Nick Steur’s stone-balancing act five stars because it was simply riveting. He also scooped an Argus Angel for the show, in which he has to balance the rocks on sheets of glass. My show was made all the more intense because a pile of stones gave way and, with an almighty crash, smashed their podium to smithereens.

Benjamin Clementine
THE singer and pianist has drawn comparisons to Nina Simone in his vocal style and Erik Satie in his piano compositions but he had that vital extra component to his sound missing from so many acts: soul. The performance at Theatre Royal was not flawless, but was more than good enough to grace any recording.

Periplum: 451
THERE’S nothing like an adventure into a forbidden area to heighten tension and it worked to great effect for this free outdoor show at the abandoned Preston Barracks site in Lewes Road. It drew on the book Fahrenheit 451 to create a dystopian book-burning world. This work is what the festival is all about: easy to digest, free, and worthy of hefty applause.

ANOTHER free show (free’s a good price, after all) this really reminded us why it’s so great to live here. You can live anywhere to have access to the arts – but a sea of burning points of light, fireworks mimicking bird flight and the ambience of memories past played out to the ocean? Only in Brighton...


Opinion: Smith's unifying vision has made it one to remember

Duncan Hall

THE announcement that Ali Smith was guest artistic director of Brighton Festival 2015 came hot on the heels of her latest novel How To Be Both being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Perhaps to be expected, literature was a major feature of this year’s programme – and she was able to invite some really impressive female writers, including the brilliant Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood, Jackie Kay and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

But what made Brighton Festival 2015 even more special was Smith’s unifying vision. Virtually every show fitted easily into her three central themes of art and nature, taking liberty and crossing places – giving everything in the festival a sense that it truly belonged.

Judging by the number of times I spotted her around the city, or at various performances, it was clear she was out there enjoying the experience of her own curated event – and that joy came through in her choices.

This festival was a bumper one for Argus Angels awards – 11 had been awarded at the time of writing, with no doubt more to come from the weekend.

And there were plenty of five-star festival shows too. What was most pleasing was the range of shows getting nominated, from classical recitals to children’s activities to serious drama, to the genuinely original and unclassifiable like Backstage In Biscuitland or Freeze!.

That range is what a festival should be about.

Two stand-out Angel-winners were The Company Of Wolves – a run or stomp around Stanmer Park once the sun had gone down in a piece inspired by an Angela Carter short story – and Sam Lee’s Nightingale Walk, set in a secret location near Lewes with audiences listening to nature-inspired music accompanying the birdsong.

And Roundabout also earned two Argus Angels for their stunning new plays Lungs and Every Brilliant Thing.