Review: PULSE Festival 2012

Ipswich wouldn’t be the first place you’d call to mind when thinking about the hotbed of contemporary theatre talent that the UK is nurturing. The city might only be a short train ride from London and neighbouring cities, but for years it’s been kept off the circuit map – until PULSE Fringe Festival began its life. With the 2012 festival presenting 52 shows in 13 days across all of Ipswich its no wonder that we’re looking towards the East of England to shake up our festival calendar. PULSE is a bold, ambitious programme for Ipswich and this year’s festival has grown to include a new pop-up space, The Campsite offering micro performances in tents and camper vans. Latitude, eat your heart out.

The Campsite

Sendak Salon – Rachel Mars
As we climb into the back of the camper van named Larissa, Rachel Mars sits in a onesie, the same one from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and invites us to join her in a circle on children’s chairs. From here, we are invited into a therapy-style group where Sendak”s tale is read, we draw our own Wild Things representing ourselves, we eat them, and then, with tremendous amounts of bouncing and dancing we have a wild rampus, complete with mirror ball and pounding music. It’s a joyous 15minutes that brings back your childhood and ignites your heart. We end with the Sendak’s motto “We saw it. We loved it. We ate it.”

A Cure For Aging – Ira Brand
In Ira Brand’s A Cure For Aging we are invited by Brand to think of ourselves not as we are, but how we might be in years to come. A time when our bodies may have changed, our health deteriorated and our lives full of shadows from our past. It is as tragic as it is heartfelt, as we share a moment to think of our body and to offer hope about the future.

my heart is hitchhiking down peach tree street – Fergus Evans
In what can only be described as a heartwarming and intimate story of what home can mean to you, Fergus Evans invites his audience into his poetic world of tenderness. Reflecting on home, and Peach Tree Street, with anidotes of how best to avoid wild animals in the state of Georgia, my heart is hitchhiking down peach tree street is a small miracle wonder of story.

Good Boy
 – Joseph Mercier
Using the text and work of Jean Genet as a focus point, Joseph Mercier’s Good Boy is a hallucinogenic, emotive and stimulating performance piece. Through its episodic nature, Genet’s texts (with additional words from Felix Lane) are seductively spoken by Mercier into the darkness with only a microphone for company. Coupled with simplistic lighting by Ziggy Jacobs and music composed by Dinah Mullen, the pulsing of sound/light and text form a hypnotising experience, which stirs images of peep-hole fantasies and the loss of loved ones. These images, the pulsating desire and exciting that enimates from Mercier as a performer is captivating, but also somewhat tragic. There is a gentle moment where Mercier invites an audience member onto the stage and slowly sways with them in his arms. This sense of attachment and intimacy whilst being both detached and isolated is beautifully captured. Whilst perhaps some further choreographic work from Mercier to explore the relationship between word and body would have emphasised Genet’s images, Good Boy is a wonderfully tender performance piece, a real gem within PULSE.

Emily’s Very Sad Play or… The Woman Who Turned Into A Book – Sara Pascoe
Imagine, if you will, a woman who is consumed by the work of fiction around her. The embodiment of words manifest themselves into her physche so that everything she says is plagiarism of herself, every thought is from a story, a character or novel. This work-in-progress showing by Sara Pascoe in Emily’s Very Sad Play is quirky, a little rough and alienating whilst being seemingly clever. Pascoe’s character sits somewhere between the sublime and the mad, recounting a whirling narrative of being raped and falling pregnant by a doctor to burning the local library. Her narrative tumbles and spirals out of control at times, but equally soars. Peppered with touching antidotes and laugh out loud tangential insights into a woman who is consumed by the words and characters from books; for a work-in-progress piece it was surprisingly full and brimming with ideas, and future development will certainly bring about a slicker version. Pascoe herself seems to mersmerise her audience, both inviting us into her dreamlike world and alienating us through her rambling tales. A very curious piece indeed.

Tatty-Del Are Making It Work – tatty-del
It’s not everyday you consider the artistic relationship between two artists who collaborate in the making of art as a relationship itself. For tatty-del (Hana Tait and Natalie Clarke), the relationship has reached breaking point, and during the build up for working on their new piece, they have no choice but to seek couple’s therapy. They’re not actually a couple, but when you search the soul of another in the name of art, sleep side by side in hotels, on the road and on sofas across the country during a tour, a certain relationship is found. tatty-del explore this in their therapy and in their portrayal of previous times together, at parties, running into the sea or just the silence of each other’s company. As another work-in-progress piece, it is bursting with ideas, some more formulated than others, but the arching idea of integrating the relationship between co-creators through couple’s therapy is both revealing and giggle-inducing theatre. There is a certain charm in both Tait and Clarke’s portrayals of themselves and their working relationship, it borders on post-modern exposure and persona-filled idiocy,but this is revealing of a bigger strength in their performance making.

Some Thoughts On PULSE
The thing that strikes me about PULSE Fringe Festival is how it manages to bring a wealth of creative talent to Ipswich. The number of artists who are being represented during this festival is staggering, and I’m certain its not something that could be managed so easily in London, despite this being the place I’ve seen the majority of work performed before. Ipswich isn’t the immediate place I think of for nurturing contemporary theatre talent, but what PULSE sets out to do might just change this. It’s  not doing anything significantly different to what other festivals have done before (such as my recent trip to Sampled Festival in Cambridge), but the creative flare and excitement of cramming so much artistry into a little under two weeks that should be commended. Emma Bettridge has done a tremendious job of curating the festival. The next steps, though (and this was felt when I attended Sampled Festival, too), is for these festivals to begin to nurture and seek out an audience willing to engage with contemporary theatre in this format.

The Campsite seemed to be bursting with some of the most exciting artists currently making work, and in an environment like no other I’ve seen, in the intimate and personal enclosures of tents and camper vans. Whilst charming and whimsically presented, I do worry that the loyal audience of Ipswich just might not be ready for this sort of work. I could, of course, be wrong, but my visit to The Campsite seemed to show a lack of local audience for the work, with artists performing to other artists. It’s a shame, given the wealth of work on display. Perhaps the audiences fared better in the New Wolsey theatre and accompanying studio theatre? Either way, bringing such exciting and dynamic examples of contemporary theatre work to regional audiences needs to happen with care and consideration. I just worry that like Cambridge, Ipswich may not have responded as invitingly to the work as one would hope.

Saying that, PULSE is a hotbed of exciting talent and should be celebrated. It’s bold and adventerous, and, as with any festival bringing new work to new audiences, this relationship takes time to build. The key here is the role of the organisers to nurture this new audience for forthcoming work. Thankfully PULSE has such a strong brand (here I pop on my marketing hat), that the identity of the festival will surely be remembered in the future.

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.