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Brighton Festival 2024

Low Down

In 1841, whilst working on a plantation on Bourbon Island (modern-day Réunion)  a twelve year slave boy called Edmond Albius discovered how to hand-pollinate the vanilla plant, eventually leading to its commercial cultivation. Edmond later died in poverty. Vanilla pods cost about £4 in the supermarket today. Learn this, and other heartfelt stories at Ground; an exclusive dining experience in the woods by Trigger, commissioned by Brighton Festival and Caravan.


One of the thrills of an arts festival is watching new work in unexpected locations, getting to explore a site or space in a new way with a group of strangers. So I find myself, after a walk through woods full of birdsong in gorgeous evening light, sitting at a hop festooned, elegantly laid table with five erudite septuagenarians, mainly called Helen.

Ground is the new piece from Trigger, makers of the popular outdoor show Teabreak at last year’s Brighton Festival. It’s the culmination of two years research and investigation across India, Ghana, Canada and the UK around the ownership of nature, the exploitation of indigenous methods of cultivation and the effects of globalisation on culture and food production.

Sounds a bit heavy? The themes certainly are, but the presentation – a shared meal in a fancy, custom built, glass sided square conservatory – certainly isn’t.

Diners are served five tasty courses cooked by Kitchen Academy’s chef Jethro Carr, the ingredients of which have relevance to the stories that weave through the meal. We hear, via a directional speaker above the table (not quite directional enough actually) from a First Nation Canadian about the 3 sisters method of planting (cute packets of seeds on our plates)  and how rice was exported from Cameroon by braiding it into mothers’ hair. Artistic Director Angie Bual’s inspiration for Ground was learning about bio-piracy; there’s a story about the patent library set up in India to fight it and save basmati rice for Indian producers to grow.

Our anchor and hostess, Flick Ferdinando, dressed in electric blue with a swirling up-do of silver hair, guides us through the evening. She becomes France, and we her colonies, her power over our economies demonstrated with loaves of bread. We have a true or false card game to play (my companions are good at this – bananas are indeed becoming extinct, help!)

Fascinating as it is to hear from voices with lived experience of the consequences of say, the Colonial Pact, or the effect of Bitcoin across Africa, the event would benefit from greater focus on its delivery to us beyond tasty things on a plate. Restaurants are places of theatre after all; the floor team should be as important to the whole as George Bloomfield’s luscious music and Bronia Housman’s eloquent design.

Trigger describes Ground as a sort of supper club and hopes that its stories and ethos will be picked up and presented around the world, placed amongst communities who can re-stage it as they wish. What a lovely idea. Around a campfire in Mexico perhaps, with sweetcorn grilled over flames; or squash-burgers and rice served from a van in a Chennai car park. Places where fine-dining and the price demanded is not often on life’s menu. A bit more grounded perhaps.