Exciting new work means a strong Pulse

Pulse, the New Wolsey Theatre's fringe festival, in Ipswich is back this year after sampling the delights of the Edinburgh festival and is now rejoicing in a national reputation for excellence.

Andrew Clarke

Pulse, the New Wolsey Theatre's fringe festival, in Ipswich is back this year after sampling the delights of the Edinburgh festival and is now rejoicing in a national reputation for excellence. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to festival director Stephen Freeman about what audiences can expect from this year's event.

The New Wolsey Theatre's adventurous Pulse Fringe Festival is back for its eighth year - offering audiences a wealth of new theatre, art, music and dance experiences.

The event has been put together by New Wolsey general manager and festival director Stephen Freeman which is designed to bring together the very best of contemporary arts. It offers Suffolk audiences the chance to see work in development, different types of performance, get a first glimpse of work destined for this year's Edinburgh Fringe as well as allowing up-coming writers, actors, musicians, dancers and choreographers the opportunity to try out new ideas and get immediate feedback fro audiences thanks to a series of end-of-performance talk-back sessions.

This year the festival has spread its arms wider than ever, taking in the visual arts for the first time and filling theatres and a host of venues across Ipswich.

“Pulse is an important platform and it's very exciting that Ipswich has become a showcase for new talent,” says Festival Director Stephen Freeman. “The 8th Pulse Fringe Festival is set to get your heart racing with a heaving schedule of contemporary performing arts spanning all arts forms. For 18 days Pulse offers an around-the-clock mini-season of events, live gigs and performances. With 36 shows spanning theatre, dance, music, live and visual arts in six venues across Ipswich, the Fringe is a full-on, immersive arts experience that will leave you breathless,” he enthuses.

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Established in 2001 by the New Wolsey Theatre, Pulse provides a platform for new and emerging artists and fresh approaches to performance across a variety of disciplines. He said that this year they had revised the application process to ensure that all productions had a life beyond Pulse - that they were going on to Edinburgh or other festivals, were going to be expanded and revised for further performances. “The important thing for us is that they weren't just going to be seen in Pulse and then forgotten. They had to have a life away from here. Pulse had to be part of a developmental process.”

He said that once again the theatre had been in close contact with the Arts Council East To Edinburgh Escalator programme which aims to help performers from the eastern region take new work to the Edinburgh Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. This year's programme features more talk-back opportunities than ever before.

Stephen said that these sessions will be a genuine two-way exchange with not only audiences telling performers and writers what they thought of the work but the companies will be asking questions of the audience too - endeavouring to find out whether ideas that they were trying to put across actually came through.

“The audience's response to work at this point in its development is invaluable,” says Stephen. “It is also an interesting experience for the audience who rarely has an opportunity to contribute and it's possible that some of this work will be developed further for

Pulse 09, giving them the opportunity to see how the work has progressed.

“What would be really lovely is for audiences who see a piece this year as an experimental work, to come back next year and see it as a finished work and see how it has changed and developed. It's a very collaborative process. I think people are really interested in how theatre is made. It's a chance to take a sneak peek behind the scenes of the creative process.

“As Hoipolloi have proved with Story of a Rabbit - a work which started off in Pulse last year this year made it on the stage in the theatre as part of the main programme. So Pulse does inform work in the main house.”

He said that going to Edinburgh last year and being exposed to so many more companies has allowed them to expand their ambitions. “I think it is really important that we are able to give a platform to these companies.”

He said that many of the performances mixed traditional theatre with dance, circus skills and video inserts. “This is really cutting edge performance material which redefines contemporary theatre - it brings in skills from a wide variety of disciplines.”

Pulse 08 opens with an early development of Beachy Head by Analogue Theatre, the second show in a trilogy which began with Mile End - which the New Wolsey presented as one of it's Pick of the Fringe shows from Edinburgh last year. Analogue brings this story to life with a innovative and cinematic performance style, mixing 3D animation, object manipulation, text and startling physical performance.

Like Mile End, The Mother's Bones and Bacchic were critically acclaimed in Edinburgh last year. Devised by Kath Burlinson, The Mother's Bones is an uncompromising solo performance piece combining theatre, movement, visual art, music, song and sound. It uses no words, but tells the story of three generations of women and their relations to each other. At times profoundly harrowing, at times celebratory, it is a mythical tale to stimulate the imagination, stir the soul and stun the heart. You can see The Mother's Bones at Sir John Mills Theatre on Thursday June 12.

Bacchic is a provocative, seductive and highly visual update of Euripides' classic Greek tragedy, The Bacchae. Featuring spectacular aerial theatre, an inspired musical score and innovative lighting, the show is an exciting, playful and powerful marriage of circus and narrative performed by Tamsin Shasha, artistic director of the intriguingly named actors of Dionysus theatre company. This will close Pulse on Saturday 14 June.

The Visible Men will be seen at The New Wolsey Theatre on Saturday June 7 and is the latest work from the UK's only practitioners of comedy dance, Tom Roden and Pete Shenton, also known as the New Art Club. New Art Club's shows are a mixture of philosophical comedy, live art and dance, serious and silly in just about equal measure. Tom and Pete have been described as the Morecambe and Wise of dance or for a more modern generation the Reeves and Mortimer of contemporary choreography.

A popular choice is expected to be Spy, which will be staged at the New Wolsey Studio on June 8, which is a new two act comedy thriller by the creator of BBC 4's The Ornate Johnsons which draws on such Cold War favourites as The Prisoner, The Ipcress File and The Manchurian Candidate. “See it first on stage in Ipswich because I am sure it will end up on television,” Stephen advises.

Another intriguing title is The British Ambassador's Belly Dancer which is an autobiographical piece written by Craig Murray, British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, and Nadira Murray the eponymous performer, along with writer Alan Hescott.

Because the ambassador spoke out against the British government obtaining intelligence from states who practised torture his mistress was depicted asa dumb bimbo. In this gripping piece she describes her journey from the slums to the ambassadorial palace by way of teacher, drugs runner and belly dancer.

A first for this year's festival is the inclusion of The Town Hall Galleries in the artistic mix. They have selected six artists which cover the broad spectrum of contemporary fine art. This year's selection includes work ranging from painting to sound installation. “It is a very exciting opportunity for developing artists,” says Julia Devonshire, Arts Project Officer at The Town Hall Galleries. “Art incorporates an enormous range of talents and its inclusion in Pulse acknowledges this and gives it a critical relevance within the wider arts.”

Work will be displayed in The Chamber at Town Hall Galleries and at the New Wolsey Theatre. Other venues hosting Pulse events are Sir John Mills Theatre, The Steamboat Tavern, The Regent Theatre Ballroom and New Wolsey Studio.

This is Stephen Freeman's first year as Pulse festival director and he is hearted that Pulse now has not only a local profile but also a national and international one. “It's incredibly heartening to see submissions to take part from companies who work not only in this country but across Europe - people who are no strangers to Edinburgh or leading London venues.

“I think that Pulse offers an amazing opportunity for the residents of Ipswich and beyond to gain access to work that wouldn't ordinarily be performed in the town. It's like our very own slice of Edinburgh. On one single night in the festival you can see a piece of visual art, watch a play in the most unusual surroundings followed by some of the most cutting edge technology-made music!

“And if that don't float your boat, what about seeing rehearsed readings from some of the most exciting new theatre companies? We've got it all - from gay theatre to contemporary sitcom.

“Instead of being a random selection of disparate projects, what we have in this year's festival is a sharply focussed distillation of cutting edge, modern arts in this country. At the end of the day what we are about is attracting the very best performers and companies to Ipswich. At the end of the day it's always about quality.”

Visit www.pulsefringe.com for this year's performance schedule and for lots more information about Pulse events. Pulse runs from May 29 to June 14. Tickets range from £3 to £7 and can be booked on 01473 295900.

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