Day Tripper: a top dash around the Brighton Fringe, and beyond

Brighton Fringe 2024. Credit: Si Hawkins

It's a very user-friendly city for a whistle-stop visit, Brighton. There's usually some sort of festival on, notably the month-long Brighton Fringe from early May to early June, just about the perfect way to discover new-to-us acts and hidden-away hotspots.

(Also, that famously stony beach means you don't get sand stuck in awkward extremities, when you've other stuff to get on with after: I do enough speed-walking between shows on this trip, add sand and there'd be serious danger of life-changing chafing.)

Presuming Ed venue at Brighton Fringe 2024. Credit: Si Hawkins

We kick off away from the seafront, off the train and up London Road to Presuming Ed, a colourful coffeehouse, which, some solid googling later, turns out to be the old HSBC. It's a much more fun place to potter around now, with visual curios hanging from most walls and ceilings.

Presuming Ed venue at Brighton Fringe 2024. Credit: Si Hawkins

And - upstairs this lunchtime - a rail of outfits. They're the props for CrimeLandTown, Ben Goldsmith's one-man multi-character take on The Godfather, Ocean's Eleven, et al. It may not sound wildly original but there are promising ideas here, notably the audience-interactive bit early doors where a mafia don explains the sliding scale of kiss-the-ring requests when it's not the bride's first rodeo.

Ben Goldsmith's CrimeLandTown poster at Brighton Fringe 2024. Credit: Si Hawkins

This work-in-progress is more trad elsewhere - it would make a decent kids show actually, if not for all the deaths - but performed with enviable vim and with hints of edgier stuff trying to burst through. The bit where rat pack chat gives way to a right-in-your-face description of rodent biology is the sort of riskier weirdness that really makes a show stand out.

Oddly enough, we'll get raccoon biology next, at another lovingly decked-out drink spot: The Actors. In an easy-to-miss alcove right opposite the mighty Pavilion, this pub/theatre was awarded best venue at last year's Brighton Fringe, according to a crowd-rousing intro speech here (doing a live speech before each act does probably help, vote-wise).

The Actors at Brighton Fringe 2024. Credit: Si Hawkins

Admittedly Alex Franklin looks a bit taken aback by that grand introduction as she bounds onto the lofty stage - lots to live up to - but after an affably low-key preamble she pivots into a terrifically terf-skewering song that simply but expertly explodes the whole anti-trans argument, straight away. Do stay for the rest of the show though.

Queer Weekender flyer at The Actors at Brighton Fringe 2024. Credit: Si Hawkins

The Actors is hosting its own Queer Weekender over the bank holiday, and though Franklin is sort of the off-menu aperitif - as this is also a WIP - it's already a show you'd be keen to bring a confused-by-current-events older relative to, as they'd struggle to dislike it, whatever paper they read.

Gurl Code is an accessibly upbeat wander through Franklin's gender journey, using music, a big screen, personal revelations and random racoon facts to reiterate that, yes, that would all seem a lot of effort just to join a different rugby team. The real joy of Fringes is stumbling upon a luminous talent like Franklin before her inevitable leap into the limelight.

Brighton Toy and Model Museum. Credit: Si Hawkins

Do you need limelight if you're luminous, though? Anyway, Franklin was a runner-up for Brighton Fringe hero Luke Rollason's "stupid vanity bursary" (his words) this year, and the Extraordinary star is one of several comedy types hanging out at the Brighton Toy and Model Museum a few hours later - not just to check out the vintage Lego, although that's well worth a look too. We're here for one of this Fringe's buzzworthy shows, Mr Cardboard.

Brighton Toy and Model Museum performance space. Credit: Si Hawkins

This twisted fairytale is essentially The Snowman, if that snow was a euphemism for cheap cocaine cut with washing powder, rat poison, and whatever else messes with your head. Possibly not for younger kids either then, no.

Levi Meltzer plays a horrific Nutella-smeared child, Huxley, and Miles Calderon his imaginary friend, the eponymous Mr Cardboard, who - as with most imaginary friends - is slightly tragic. It's dark, funny, occasionally poignant, wilfully odd, and goes down very well indeed: imagine if David Cronenberg directed that new Ryan Reynolds movie, IF, but on a miniscule budget. And most importantly they manage not to damage any of the vintage Airfix planes overhead, so that's a relief.

Brighton Fringe 2024 Spiegeltent. Credit: Si Hawkins

There isn't actually much cardboard-based action in that show, mind you, certainly compared to our final stop. Running a whole separate festival of its own this year, the two-venue Spiegeltent also hosts its own fest-within-a-fest, the now-annual Weekend of Weird, this time featuring - yes - Weirdos, with their splendidly niche extravaganza You Can't Trade Friendship, loosely based on a board game, Catan, that half the audience have never played. But no matter!

Brighton Fringe 2024 Spiegeltent - Weekend of Weird poster. Credit: Si Hawkins

Head weirdo Adam Larter is the original Mr Cardboard - creating tremendous 2D props for every show - and has been doing plays that go wrong at least as long as that big West End business. Not that the cock-ups are planned here, it's just that the cobbled-together-from-who's-in-town cast clearly don't get much rehearsal time, possibly any, with the likes of narrator Sam Nicoresti having just walked off stage from a WIP.

The result this particular evening is an enjoyably Morecambe & Wisey feel, in the Bosco tent, as various cast members attempt to exit stage left and end up walking straight into the blackout drapes. All those hours spent writing witty scenes, and some of the biggest laughs come from curtain fumbling. That's showbiz.

Weirdos cast backstage at Brighton Fringe 2024. Image shows left to right: Joe Kent-Walters, Freddie Hayes, Mikey Bligh-Smith

Onstage, Larter is a sort of absurdist Ernie Wise, trying to good-naturedly (sometimes slightly exasperatedly) hold it all together, while also playing the straight man - Ernie Weird! Many of his best gags are graciously given to trusted lieutenants, which here include Ali Brice, Freddie Hayes, Cerys Bradley, and Benjamin Alborough (who co-runs WoW with Ellie BW), who was in this tent with a memorable live-action board game of his own last year, come to think of it, Absolute Monopoly.

Brighton Fringe 2024. Credit: Si Hawkins

Roll on Brighton Fringe/Spiegeltent/whatever else in 2025 then, and no doubt an absolutely batshit version of Subbuteo, or something.

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