Redgrave will open the festival, which runs from 5 to 27 May, by leading the children's parade through the centre of the city – the traditional and spectacularly colourful start of the festivities. She will also narrate one of the highlights of the packed programme, the world première of A World I Loved by Wadad Makdisi Cortas. This moving and thought-provoking multimedia staged event chronicles Cortas’s life - in images, readings and music – beginning in Lebanon in 1917 and spanning the next 50 years, through the creation of Israel and the expulsion of the Palestinians, to the Lebanese Civil War.
At the launch of the festival, held in Brighton’s magnificent Theatre Royal, the chief executive of Brighton Dome and Festival Andrew Comben started by thanking Brighton & Hove Council and Arts Council England for their continued support. He then went on to officially welcome Miss Redgrave by saying “I can think of no better artist than Vanessa Redgrave, who has demonstrated throughout her extraordinary career not only astonishing artist achievements in the rigorous pursuit of her craft, but also the sincerity, conviction and energy to speak on behalf of those who cannot.”
Among the other premières that feature in the 2012 programme is the latest offering from dreamthinkspeak The Rest Is Silence. Following the sell-out success in 2010 of Before I Sleep, this year’s production will run for the full three weeks of the festival. Artistic director Tristan Sharps has fused the worlds of art installation and theatre in his deconstruction of Hamlet. This site-specific piece, to be staged in Shoreham Harbour, will interweave film, installation and performance to create a vigorous new interpretation.
Street theatre is represented, on a monumental scale, by the UK premiere of Waterlitz by Generik Vapeur. The renowned French company will use their hallmark of combining the highest quality theatre with pyrotechnics and breathtaking aerial stunts in a mobile performance that is set to stun audiences with spectacle, while challenging them to consider some of the biggest issues affecting the planet today. A huge scarecrow made of shipping containers, a crowd of giant carved ice sentinels, near -extinct animals, fireworks and aerial ballet all form part of this incredible piece.
Making their first ever UK appearance are the celebrated Berlin Theatre Collective – which is, rather strangely, a Belgian company – with a site-specific “reality theatre” experience entitled Land’s End. In this piece two murder suspects are arrested for the same crime, but in different countries with very different judicial systems. For the trial to proceed the participants meet at a convenient border. Using a mixture of live performance, ingenious contraptions and filmed interviews, Berlin reassembles the group and the audience enter the crime scene in a curious hinterland between reality and fiction.
Redgrave returns to the stage in another festival exclusive. My Life In Pictures is one of BAFTA’s highest profile strands and, in a live on-stage interview with selected significant film clips, offers the audience the opportunity to recognise the contributions of one of the industry’s most celebrated individuals alongside the chance to learn from her experiences and expertise.
The festival is also very proud to be offering, as its closing presentation, the 50th anniversary performance of Michael Tippett’s King Priam. This concert performance, featuring the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Sian Edwards, draws on Homer’s Iliad and other classical texts and takes a private view of the events of the Trojan War focussing on individual moments of moral choice.
After the formal proceedings I asked Comben if the passion with which he and Redgrave had addressed the launch audience would be translated into the events at the Brighton Festival. “I think that’s absolutely right … Whenever I have invited artists, particularly artists on Vanessa’s behalf, they have responded immediately and enthusiastically. There is a feeling that they are coming together for a festival that is representing more than the sum of its parts.”