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Pulse launches on Friday 25 May

Ipswich’s fringe theatre festival Pulse, which takes over the town between 25 May and 9 June, has never believed in confining itself just to the more recognised theatre spaces. Car-parks, private houses, camper-vans, pubs, restaurants, the Town Hall and its environs have all played host to Pulse events. This year’s selection of venues for the 52 different shows over the 13 days is, if possible, even more eclectic.

Ten of the productions are presented under the aegis of Escalator. This is the East of England’s own talent development initiative, supported by the Arts Council. They are, in date order: Holly Rumble’s An Audio Guide to Varo’s Harmony (New Wolsey Theatre 25 May), Nola (about the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico) from Look Left Look Right (Theatre 26 May), Sean GittensTil Debt Do Us Part (Theatre 27 May) and Sh!t Theatre’s JSA (New Wolsey Studio 29 May).

The other Escalator shows are: Tatty-Del Are Making It Work (Theatre 2 June), Shams’ Thin Ice (Theatre 3 June), Show And Tell’s My Robot Heart (Theatre, also on 3 June), Ira Brand’s Keine Angst and A Cure for Ageing (Studio 6 June), Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton (who take over the New Wolsey’s bar on 8 June), and finally [Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe in The Oh F**k Moment (Theatre 9 June).

As you might expect when so many performers are still perfecting their shows for that mammoth showcase which is the Edinburgh Fringe, a lot of the events (at least 13, if my analysis is correct) are billed as “work in progress”. From past experience, this can range from script-in-hand minimally-staged productions to actively involving the audience in shaping the work.

The average running-time tends to be around an hour, though some are shorter and (surprise! surprise!) others quite a bit longer. Last year there were a number of unfortunate time overlaps; 2012 promises a stricter timetable, though you may still have to maintain a brisk pace between venues. The creators of many of these shows with their sights fixed so firmly north of the Border have a habit of barring theatre critics from reviewing their performances, which is why some will receive no further recognition until then.

Of course, that doesn’t stop them asking you, as paying members of the theatre-going public, to fork out hard cash to see the production. Pulse prices vary between £5 and £8 per show, with Hannah Ringham’s Free Show being nothing of the kind – you are asked to pay what you think the hour is worth. Though this particular money-spinner is reputably worth your hard-earned pennies. Even your pounds.

Some brave souls between 25 and 27 May are opening up their living-rooms for Avon Calling, a show from The Other Way Works which plans to reveal something other than merely a flawless complexion. A live animation (now, that does sound like a bit of a contradiction) called Under Stokes Croft rings a 2011 Bristol riots variation on Dylan Thomas’s original (Studio 25 May). Dan Canham follows last year’s 30 Cecil Street with Ours Was the Fen Country (Studio 25 May); it’s based on conversations with the people who live and work in what can seem, to outsiders, to be a slightly sinister environment.

A one-to-one performance every 12 minutes is promised by Jo Bannon with Exposure/, an enquiry into looking (Theatre 26 May). Deafinitely bravely attempt an entire Shakespeare play – the textually complicated Love’s Labour Lost – in BSL (British sign language). This Studio show (26 May) is also being presented at the World Shakespeare festival. Also on 26 May are Stories From an Invisible Town (Hoipolloi and Hugh Hughes) in the main Theatre and the event in the Studio which you have already been warned doesn’t live up to its title – Ringham and Glen Neath’s Free Show

The Silent Pianist Speaks, at the Ipswich Film Theatre. illustrates Neil Brand’s career accompanying silent film presentations on 27 May. Ten Out of Ten is a scratch performance by Terry O’Donovan, Clare Dunn and Stuart Barter on 27 May in the Studio, followed by Jessie Percival’s solo dance-theatre piece I Never Did…. A new circus show from Collectif, Lost Post, takes over the Theatre meanwhile.

Monday 28 May, like the Jubilee bank holidays of Monday 4 and Tuesday 5 June, are Pulse-free days. Johnny Head-in-Air is The Mechanical Animal Corporation’s (how do performance companies come up with these names?) examination of a man with a brain tumour in the Theatre (29 May). The Watery Journey of Nereus Pike, which follows it, is a one-person show by Laura Mugridge, who won an Edinburgh Fringe First in 2010 with Running on Air.

We stay in the main Theatre for The Lonely One, which Rachel Warr has developed from a Ray Bradbury novel on 30 May; this was first tried-out at last year’s festival. Mamori Iriguchi and Selina Papoutseli are Projector/Conjector in the Studio immediately after. On 31 May, the Theatre is host to Don Quijote, a work-in-progress led by Tom Frankland who plays a contemporary riff on Cervantes’s classic It’s followed by Dirty Great Love Story from Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh, purveyors of last year’s Skittles

Do you fancy a Psychodrama? This one comes out of the Bristol Old Vic’s Ferment initiative and is written and performed by Sam Halmarack and Tom Wainwright (Studio, 31 May). Friday 1 June has two shows in the main Theatre – Cutting the Cord from Flying Eye (this gained plaudits in Edinburgh last year ) and The Ethics of Progress, in which Jon Spooner explains quantum physics. On the same day the Studio hosts a new, so far untitled play by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm followed by Sam Halmarack & The Miserablites which promises to be interactive stadium pop.

From Friday 1 June until Sunday 3 June Pulse introduces The Campsite, the open space behind the New Wolsey Theatre which will be filled with vintage vehicles and caravans, each offering a theatre space, a mini-cinema or a music venue. Saturday and Sunday are both family-focused, with the theatre’s own Young Company orchestrating Sunday’s events. Also on Saturday 2 June, Ipswich town centre will be partly occupied by Three Step Endeavour, a participatory hopscotch extravaganza.

In the Studio on Saturday 2 June, Bethany Sharp-McLeod performs Rich Chilver’s Shed, about a 15-year old preparing an unusual reception for her estranged mother. Later you can sample Goodboy by Joseph Mercier, a dance solo on the subject of Jean Genet and Legs 11 in which Tom Marshman apparently becomes a lower-limb model. Emily’s Very Sad Play in the Theatre early that same evening is written and performed by Sara Pascoe.

You need to go across to Arlingtons Brasserie on Sunday 3 June for Tom Wainwright’s Buttercup (yes, apparently she really is a cow); there are two afternoon performances. Goose Party is a two-hour show from Little Bulb Theatre and is billed as an identity tour. You need to take yourself over to the Studio on Sunday 3 June for this promised evening of madcap wildness.

As I said, there follows an extended bank holiday. Pulse resumes on Wednesday 6 June with a commission from The Junction (Cambridge) in the Theatre. Mega is a Bryony Kimmings afternoon show lasting just half-an-hour and plays through to Saturday 9 June. The evening shows are Badlands, a dance piece choreographed by Robert Clark and performed by Jake Ingram-Dodd and Victoria Hoyland in the Studio, followed by the New Wolsey Young Associates’ development of last year’s Party Piece in the Theatre.

The final three days start with four daytime showings in the Studio on Thursday 7 June for children and families on the theme of Snow White. This being the Filskit Theatre company, expect what might be described as the flip-side of the well-known story. Etiquette of Grief in the evening and also in the Studio has been created and is performed by Ellie Harrison.

Friday 8 June takes you out-of-doors again into Ipswich’s town centre for Write a Letter to a Stranger, in which Rajni Shah invites you to do just that. And to receive one in return. The Theatre that evening has a complexly-developed show by Hannah Silva called Opposition, about a political system in melt-down (just where, when and what could that possibly be?). Musician and comedian Rosie Wilby is in the Studio with How (Not) To Make it in Britpop, then it’s back to the main Theatre for Anima by the Karavan Ensemble.

Contrasted shows bring Pulse to its close for 2012 on Saturday 9 June. Birdhouse is a somewhat skewed stage variation on Hitchcock’s film The Birds in the Studio with Northern Soul by and with Victoria Melody (a Farnham Maltings commission) as the early evening offering. Then the ancient Greek legend of Queen Clytemnestra and heavy metal combine for The Furies in the Ipswich Corn Exchange makes a noisy finale. It comes from Birmingham’s Kindle Theatre.


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