Brighton Festival 2021
Co-commissioned by Brighton Festival (2020) and supported by Without Walls, with development supported by the University of Portsmouth, Up My Street mixes music, visuals and dance in a story that unfolds on your hand-set. A little gem hidden from public view in Brighton’s Pavilion Gardens.
It is Beltane; the first Saturday of May and also of Brighton Festival. We’re in the middle of a pandemic on a bank holiday so it’s perfect timing to escape into another world, one where masks are not required and walls don’t confine.
A group of five, with iPhones and head-phones, follow their leader through busy Brighton streets and into the Royal Pavilion gardens. We have instructions to heed and clues to search out; first chase the blue fizzing globe until you find the ‘anchor’ and get zapped into a new dimension.
Walking to each location of the five locations, scanning the ground, a rhythm in our ears, we are clearly a group doing ‘a thing’ and it’s a not a silent disco. We can hear the birds and the chatter, look at where we are and who is looking at us. Whilst sharing much of the technology and aesthetic of VR this is a less immersive gig, which suits its themes of travel and togetherness. We feel connected; with leader Kwesi, with each other, the landscape and everyone around. The Pavilion’s security alarm is accidentally triggered and booms out a warning as body-mapped dancers in Basquiat-inspired onesies dance over the crenellated rooftop. There’s a scribbly map of the world beneath us as we jig along to Hobbit’s beat box soundtrack and talk about our own journeys for a too short moment.
Most impressive is a section that unfolds against a boarded up bar, where the walls break and bounce with colour by graffiti artist Scotty B of Brave Arts. The choreography is not the strongest element in the mix, but here it flies.
For the finale we gather under the Pavilion’s entrance canopy and with a drawing app are given free rein to graffiti the stone columns and dome. My squiggles in blue, red and green maybe the worst tagging in town but they were fun to make. The experience as a whole has been fun rather than anything deeper; the visuals don’t relate strongly enough to the narrative of migration and the mono-cultural soundtrack gets repetitive. Kwesi acknowledges that since its making, two years ago, there are now many new ways of creating multi-sensory experiences. That said, there are a few loading issues along the way with our group; thank heavens for the tech-wrangler following behind.
Fenyce, the digital technology company behind the show predicts, rather alarmingly, that “Static exposure to Art, Architecture and entertainment will be turned into a wrapping living world as our creations become alive and respond to our gestures, movements, speech and, without doubt, thoughts in the near future.” Up My Street maybe a baby step in that direction but it’s a welcome diversion from the day-to-day.