Mayfest 2013 programme revealed

3 04 2013

Mayfest, Bristol’s foremost festival of theatre, is celebrating its tenth anniversary in style with what promises to be its most ambitious programme yet of live performance, with everything from a rock version of a classical myth in a converted church to giant multi-coloured doilies around the the city.

As well as theatres, the Mayfest 2013 programme will also visit more atypical sites this year than ever before, including the Central Library and a gymnastics club, and will also feature a series of ten new bespoke commissions from Bristol artists.

Performers include Kate Tempest (recent winner of the Ted Hughes Poetry Award), New York’s Banana Bag and Bodice, National Theatre Wales/Neon Neon, Belarus Free Theatre, Clod Ensemble, Ontroerend Goed, Ockham’s Razor, Ridiculusmus, Kieran Hurley, Paper Cinema and many more.

Mayfest artistic directors Matthew Austin and Kate Yedigaroff said: “In a time where there is much talk of austerity, Bristol is without doubt bucking the trend when it comes to arts and culture.

“It continues to be a city where artists come to live, make work, innovate and experiment, and where audiences enjoy an unrivalled mix of theatre, digital art and music.

“Festivals provide a unique focal point for that creativity and our tenth anniversary programme celebrates the wealth of talent in the city and places it alongside some of the most brilliant theatrical voices from around the world. We can’t wait to get stuck in.”

Mayfest Bristol

Mayfest 2013 takes place in Bristol between May 16 and 26. For more information and to view the full programme, visit

Mayfest 2012: Goose Party

28 05 2012

Mayfest 2012 came to a rousing musical conclusion yesterday evening after a fortnight of theatrical fun and frolics. Goose Party, from Little Bulb Theatre, played a set of musical mayhem in the spit and sawdust surroundings of the Bristol County Sports Club just up Colston Street from the Colston Hall.

Despite walking by the social club hundreds of times, I had never been in before last night. But the surroundings looked familiar, and it was only when returning back home that I realised why: this was the bar that the teachers from Teachers used to drink in.

The band put on a fun and frenetic show, with one of their number blessed with a belting voice and a sarong that she gladly told us was threatening to fall off to reveal her “love potions”.

Away from the band, the room contained a veritable feast of Mayfest-ers. There were artistic directors Kate Yedigaroff and Matthew Austin from MAYK; Tom Marshman, star of Legs 11; the Garage Band boys; and Claire Reddington, director of the Pervasive Media Studio in the Watershed, who helped with the creation of Magna Mysteria.

With a variety of instruments including a kazoo, harmonica and double bass, Goose Party put on quite a party to end this year’s Mayfest. They will hopefully be back next year as part of a festival that constantly amazes with its diversity and talent, and has become a real highlight among Bristol’s myriad of artistic offerings.

Mayfest 2012: The Articulate Hand

27 05 2012

Giving Andrew Dawson a rousing round of applause at the conclusion of The Articulate Hand in the Bristol Old Vic Studio, and now tapping away with my fingers on the keys of my laptop as I write this review, I have never appreciated my hands so much. This is what Dawson brings to this show, part science lecture, part theatre, part mime, employing his own hands as dancers.

Along the way he introduces us to those who have had movement to their hands restricted, through accident, stroke or illness. Dawson becomes them, showing us in the most memorable example how a young girl paralysed after hitting her head at the bottom of a swimming pool, now controls her hands by moving her left shoulder which sends electrical impulses to open and close her right fist.

The Articulate Hand was an absolutely fascinating hour, moving and illuminating. I shall never take my hands for granted again.

Mayfest 2012: Episode, Arnolfini

27 05 2012

So this is what it must be like to be trapped in a David Lynch movie. There are clowns with big red wigs bouncing off one another and throwing a large bomb back and forth. There are cardboard boxes everywhere. A woman in a dress sits on the toilet with her knickers round her ankles. Another woman in an identical dress sits on the same toilet with her knickers round her ankles. There are explosions, roars and much other lunacy besides by director Frauke Requardt.

Mayfest 2012: Garage Band

26 05 2012

The first task of Garage Band was to find the garage where it was being staged. Turns out that not many garages in St Werburgh’s stage a Mayfest show at 2pm in the afternoon, and if that’s not clue enough, the smell of a barbecue was like catnip on a hot day.

Garage Band, written, designed and directed by Richard Allen, is inspired by Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder.

Set during a band practise in a garage in Conduit Place, just round the corner from the Duke of York pub, the lead singer takes us back to a strange accident involving an object falling from the sky, and then tries to piece his memory back together.

David Reeves, credited in the programme as simply The Singer, is a convincingly gawky and thickly bespectacled lead in the image of Elvis Costello or Buddy Holly, with a vacant sense of otherness.

Covers of songs by bands such as Grandaddy and Weezer are interspersed with flashes of memories, as the band’s bass player (Alec Hughes) and drummer (Joseph Varley) prat about in increasingly ludicrous situations.

Garage Band told a story of someone living in a very damaged mind, and might have benefitted from being darker.

Instead, the issues in this fun and original production were dealt with by humour and kindness, with a constantly versatile and surprising set squeezed into a garage you should try to find.

Garage Band is being performed tomorrow (Sunday, May 27) at 2pm and 6pm. For more information, visit

Mayfest 2012: Small Talk, Brewery Theatre

26 05 2012

Small Talk is a one-woman show that features many women. “The women are all me and they are not me,” says our one-woman star Antonia Grove. “They are themselves and they are not themselves. Who knows.” This is dance theatre with music from Status Quo to Four Tet and deceptively simple lighting.

There is transformation after transformation as Grove swaps wigs, shoes and clothes to fully become her characters, the most memorable of which are a number of ingenues giving gushing acceptance speeches and interviews.

With an arch of her back, a flick of the hair and a glint in her eye, not forgetting her long legs which she crosses one-way and then the other, it is virtually impossible to take your eyes off Grove, who the Observer recently named as one of the UK’s top twentysomething over-achievers.

Directed and choreographed by Wendy Houseman, Small Talk was originally a short piece which thankfully was seen as worth extending.

Grove has a rare ability to inhabit characters but then flip expectations with contemporary dance often the bridge between women.

This mistress of disguise will set your pulses racing.


Mayfest 2012: Minsk, Tobacco Factory

25 05 2012

Of all things, it is the Eurovision Song Contest taking place in Azerbaijan this weekend that has brought into sharp focus what an oppressive regime in Europe can do to its own people. Human rights protesters are being bundled into the back of cars by state security forces, and journalists arrested for daring to ask questions.

Some of the pictures on the news bare striking similarities to a video shown near the beginning of Minsk, a thought-provoking, troubling and deeply moving show which has been brought to Mayfest by Belarus Free Theatre.

The video shows young  people in a square clapping, before their illegal gathering (there is a law in Belarus that prohibits people standing together and doing nothing) is violently broken up by plain clothes police officers.

As the young actors in turn do innocuous activities like clap, play the flute and unfurl a rainbow flag, they are bundled off by heavies in beanie hats looking just like the heavies on the video screen, onto which is also projected an English translation of the Belarusian spoken and shouted.

What makes Minsk all the more powerful is that the events acted out are not just true but happened to the actors in front of us. Dzenis Tarasenka was seized at a rally and spent three hours being stretched against a wall. He proudly showed us his scars.

Belarus Free Theatre are some of the most outspoken critics of the repressive regime in Europe’s last dictatorship. Tarasenka is not alone in his suffering; many company members have served time in prison, lost their jobs, gone into hiding or been exiled.

Not many pieces of theatre so skilfully open your eyes to troubling happenings in a country that may be in Europe but remains virtually unknown to outsiders.

With panache and bravery, Minsk reveals the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary true stories. This is must-see theatre.

Minsk is at the Tobacco Factory until tomorrow. Click here for more information.

Mayfest 2012: John Moran, Brewery Theatre

21 05 2012

Returning to Mayfest with a brand new show, Con Artist, John Moran explained that this was actually an unfinished piece. Despite being on his to-do list, he hadn’t completed it, so shared that little caveat with us, before confounding all expectations and presenting a head-scratchingly baffling show regardless.

Moran is a composer, and this was a live show. But even though Moran played the harp and other instruments, there were no instruments here, only recordings.

The recordings were of not only music, but of sounds – doors opening, footsteps, cats meowing – and voices. New Yorker Moran took on many personas, including most bizarrely, himself, as his was one of the recorded voices.

I was reminded of the Foley artist seen on the Brewery stage last year in Under Milk Wood: Live on Air, but these were not sounds created in the here and now, but sounds he explained to us that he had collected over many years.

A law unto himself, this latest show from Moran left me bamboozled, perplexed and in awe. This was as much work-in-progress as the Olympic torch relay. Every detail was so finely tuned from a master of his craft, whatever that may be.

Mayfest Cafe

20 05 2012

Laura Hart of Hart’s Bakery, and her custard tarts, cinnamon buns, chocolate brownies and Eccles cakes (if you ask her nicely), is back! You can find her wares all next week at the pop-up Mayfest Cafe in The Parlour on College Green, which is being run by those lovely people from 40 Alfred Place.

As well as Hart’s Bakery, there is coffee from Extract Coffee Roasters, tea from Attic, and some mighty fine “turbo toasties”, £3.50 for cheese and leek, or £3.90 for cheese and ham.

Secure the comfy sofa in the window and watch the world go by. And buy some Mayfest tickets while you’re at it.

Mayfest 2012: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, Trinity Centre

18 05 2012

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is sponsored by a whisky, and a few audience members would have needed more than the complimentary dram of Benromach after last night’s performance at the Trinity Centre which also marked the start of this year’s Mayfest.

This is performance in the round, and as the actors pass between the audience’s tables and chairs, boundaries are blurred.

We provided the snow on a particularly cold night. One gentleman’s arms became a motorbike. Several audience members found a drunk woman draped over them. And most memorably, one poor sod was not just straddled but half-undressed.

Previously performed in pubs across Scotland, where it was an award-winner at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart consists of enormous fun and then quiet moments of reflection in almost total darkness.

Bagsy a table in the middle of the Trinity if you feel like doing more than just spectating during an extraordinary evening.

Prudencia Hart is a demure academic who specialises in folk balladry. After a conference near Kelso in the Scottish Borders, her car snowed in, she leaves a pub early to make her way to a B&B where she faces some devilish consequences.

Nothing is as it seems in this sparklingly inventive show from the National Theatre of Scotland, created by David Greig and Wils Wilson.

Greig’s writing slips from mundane everyday observations about Twitter and an Asda car park, to a deeply moving example of Stockholm Syndrome. What is all the more remarkable is that most of the dialogue is said in rhyming couplets.

Among the five actors, Madeleine Worrall as Prudencia sheds layers of not just clothing but real emotion as she lives out her academic research, David McKay is genuinely chilling, and Andy Clark is so good you will be chanting his name.

To paraphrase Kylie Minogue and a song that features in a production with some marvellous musical moments, you just won’t be able to get it out of your head.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is at the Trinity Centre until Sunday, May 20. Click here for more information.