Though only if you move away from the current norm of placing north at the top of your map (which is a purely arbitrary – and fairly recent – choice) . Yes folks, yesterday I hied myself to the Rape of Lewes, deep within the Hundred of Whalesbone – and no, I was not interfering with a be-corseted woman in an unwanted manner, but was actually visiting Brighton.
Having been an annual visitor to the Fringe in distant Edinburgh for a decade now, I had never been to its equivalent in the much more physically proximate city of Brighton – a lack which I fixed yesterday. I cannot claim this was as the result of long planning, but rather of a whim on Friday afternoon spurred by an only tangentially connected tweet.
The two fringes have many similarities, including exactly the same ticketing system. I went to two gigs on the free fringe – which, as in the north, take place in the overly warm function rooms of city pubs (in general, the functions are surjections) – and two at the paid fringe. So, as in Edinburgh, you can see that I tried to fit far too much into a day – which due to the vagaries of Southern Railways had to end by 20:30 to catch the last train home (I believe the burghers of Brighton are unwilling to have Southampton folk loose in the city after sundown – I suspect we lower the tone).
Brighton has some differences from Edinburgh – it tends to be warmer for a start. It does seem to attract – at least around the North Laine – a collection of folk who make the denizens of Hoxton or Shoreditch seem so hopelessly unhip that you worry their legs might fall off. I have never seen such a concentration of artisan coffee, vintage clothing and architectural salvage shops clustered together before. I even saw a shop that sold only bonsai trees – can this really be commercially viable? As a result, I found it very difficult to keep a straight-face (which I suppose may not be critical, in a certain sense, in Brighton) and almost had to be carried out helpless with mirth.
My free fringe venue of choice (or random selection) was the Croline of Brunswick which offered a very potable pint of Adnam’s Ghost Ship. Based on the sign outside, I believe the propaganda of George IV may have been all too successful on the south coast and the famously chaste queen was shown in a substantially more lewd pose than modern historical scholarship would support. The function room has the potential for decent ventilation, but this was curtailed by the noise from outside (requiring the windows to be closed), and relatively comfy chairs (I have, and was about to, sit on far worse). I saw two James’s (serially, rather than in parallel)- Veitch and Bennison – who both provided laughs from shows in differing stages of completion. Worryingly, one (James B) recognised me from Edinburgh – which suggests I am even more memorable than I had feared. I shall have to work harder on my anonymity.
My paid fringe gigs could have been in Edinburgh, as they took place on a patch of worn grass near a larger building (in this case St Peter’s Church). This grass was largely covered in tents, pop-up food stalls, unsanitary-looking loos and other temporary performance “boxes”: if I had woken there with amnesia I could easily have believed I was in St George’s Square in Auld Reekie. In Edinburgh, the “boxes” are usually some sort of portacabin but here it was (literally) a shipping container, fitted out in hardboard (which included the seating – all hard wood and right-angles) – and in this container I spent two hours (with a short break between). It provided a strange admixture of comedy and the feel of being on the wrong end of human trafficking.
Both the acts I saw had a connection to Exeter – coincidence? You decide. The Jest were a sketch group with some pretty successful and original sketches in their armoury. However, the stand-out (and indeed, up) star of my day was Mike Wozniak. I’d previously seen him doing sketches with Daniel Rigby and Cariad Lloyd, but this was the first time I’d seem him doing solo stand-up. He was excellent, sufficiently funny to make me (almost) forget the discomfort of my body.
My day in Brighton ended with a couple of shocking sights. As I ascended the steep hill to the station (another link to the Athens of the North) I passed a rather brazen commercial premises. As an old fogey, I think of mange as a mite-based skin disease of canines (and other animals) but clearly to the young people it has another meaning. As so often with the popular, there would seem to be an exploitative secondary market where mange is sold to the desperate at many times its face value. I was shocked to see that a mange tout was plying his wicked trade quite openly from a substantial commercial premises. Truly, we love in debased times.
On reaching the station, I found myself a little peckish (a virtually unheard of occurrence, as regular readers will realise) and so popped into the M&S for sustenance. Being a healthy chap, my eyes were draw to a pack of four small apricots. My eye was then repelled from the price associated with these very diminutive fruits of the Prunus armeniaca – £3.70! which M&S helpfully explained was 92.5p each. I guess a city whose economy can support the purchase of such fruit would think nothing of a weekly trip to bring fresh bonsai home. Still, too rich for my blood and I slunk back to Southampton. Nevertheless, a very enjoyable – if at times sweaty and uncomfortable – day, just remember to bring your own fruit with you should you visit Brighthelmstone without a few million in the bank.