Fringe theatre festival gives Ipswich its Pulse
- Credit: Archant
Pulse, the New Wolsey Theatre’s fringe festival celebrates its 14th birthday this year and continues to grow. Last year it ran for six days – in 2014 it has expanded to ten.
In the last decade-and-a-half it has developed from a collection of eastern region acts into a fringe theatre hub with a national and international reputation.
Newly commissioned work is showcased in Ipswich before going onto Edinburgh and other festivals around the country while European companies come to Suffolk to bring a different cultural viewpoint.
Festival directors China Plate, aka Ed Collier and Paul Warwick, have returned and the focus this year is providing an eclectic mix to draw in the widest possible audience.
Co-director Ed Collier said Pulse 2014 will encompass everything from comedy to dance, a wide variety of music to thought-provoking drama. It will be presented in various forms from tour-ready work to works in various stages of development.
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“We hope there is something here for everyone – young, old, local, those coming in for the day. We’ve got everything from tween pop stars being reinvented, people balancing rocks, the world’s smallest pirate and the world’s tallest parrot.
“Over the ten days we have 44 companies presenting work.”
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Fellow programmer Paul Warwick said the process of pulling the festival together is a year-long process which is always whirring away in the back of their minds.
“Whenever you see something that catches your eye you are thinking is this right for the programme but the open application process for the festival is important because it flags up things that wouldn’t necessarily be on our radar.”
This year the pair have had to sift through more than 200 applications to be part of Pulse compared to just over 90 for 2013. “This is an indication of just how much this festival is now on the map and how keen artists are to come to Ipswich and share their work with audiences here.”
He said that the challenge for them is not finding good artists but finding the right mix.
“What are we looking for? I think it is important to be presenting work that is contemporary and exciting but is also something that everyone can appreciate. We are looking for work which has a really exciting personal story or something which can relate to people very directly.
“And it’s also important we have balance. We have some companies who are a big international draw and others who are just emerging. We have local artists and national artists and by having that mix it helps everyone.”
The 2014 Pulse Festival opens on May 29 with Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, the latest show from Pulse favourite Bryony Kimmings.
This year Bryony has teamed up with her nine-year-old niece Taylor to create a new pop star for the 21st century.
Paul said the show is a provocative protest against global attempts to sexualise and commodify childhood.
“Bryony and Taylor want to play the global tween machine at its own game by inventing dinosaur-loving, bike riding, tuna pasta-eating, alternative pop star Catherine Bennett and it’s worked. She has already been on Radio One, has had national air play and has played The Southbank Centre and outdoor pop gigs. So it’s a big deal for us and a great way to open Pulse 2014.”
For the first time dance plays a significant role in the festival. DanceEast have programmed two complementary pieces at the Jerwood DanceHouse which will extend the festival down to the Ipswich waterfront.
DanceEast’s Brendan Keaney said he was looking for new work that had a strong narrative core.
Dancemaker Wendy Houston, who performed at the DanceHouse earlier in the year, has been commissioned to create something new for the festival and Hetain Patel, from Sadler’s Wells, will be bringing a new performance piece to Ipswich.
Brendan said: “Wendy is an extraordinary dancemaker but a dancemaker who plays with words.
“I have put her together with Hetain Patel because both their work is about identity. They make quite a strong, contrasting pair. They come from different generations, different backgrounds. It should provide something very striking.”
New work forms the core of the Pulse and much of this showcased in the Festival’s Suitcase and Scratch days. Ed said: “We are really pleased to have Suitcase Day back this year. It is so named for two reasons. First: because one of the artists gets to win a suitcase full of cash – £1000 – but secondly, it’s also our attempt to persuade artists to make work in a more environmentally sustainable way.
“The rules are simple. The show has to be a new piece of work and you have to be able to tour it on public transport with your luggage being carried by the people in the show. You can still have a cast of thousands but you just need to book a lot of train tickets.
“We will be working with a panel of judges throughout the day and the act we think is the most exciting, will win the suitcase.”
Paul said that the other day dedicated to work-in-progress is Scratch Day. “Like all Scratch events, it’s rather like going to a cake shop and instead of sampling the finished pieces in the window, you go and dip your fingers into the mixing bowl. It’s an opportunity for artists to put unfinished work before an audience, to test things out and to get feedback. They are anxious to come here, show off their work and equally importantly meet you in the bar afterwards to get your thoughts.”
Both the Suitcase Day and the Scratch Day will also feature finished work from artists who took part in last year’s event so audiences can see how the work-in-progress finished up.
Those showcasing work will include Annie Siddons with Raymondo, a show about growing up for grown ups. The Young Associates at the New Wolsey are bringing back the finished version of their show Frequently Asked Questions and Francesca Millican-Slater will be doing The Forensics of a Flat.
“Two Destination Language will finish off Suitcase Day – they were the guys who got the £1000 last year. They have completed their show Near Gone and have been on a highly successful tour ever since. We are chuffed to bring them back.”
Scratch Day will also be ending with some finished new work Gym Party, by Made in China, and a new piece called My Son and Heir, by Searchparty. “The couple making the show had a baby who was born not that far away from Baby Cambridge, our newest Royal, and unlike Will and Kate, because they are struggling artists, they are having a slightly different experience. Interestingly, though, there are parallels because both couples are bringing up their children with the help of the state.”
Families form an important strand of this year’s Pulse Festival with the New Wolsey Theatre building hosting a family day on Sunday June 2. The programme has been designed to appeal a wide age range, from infants to teens to parents.
Paul said: “The building will be filled with activity for kids of all ages. There will two shows in the auditorium: the brilliant Pirate and the Parrot which will be followed by a workshop about inclusivity particularly good for parents with disabled children. Then we have Blast Off by Kid Carpet who is taking a menagerie of crazy animals into space.
“The day finishes with a show for slightly older children called Titus. This has been a huge success right across Europe and we have got it coming here in a new translation.”
There is also a work for older audiences by New Wolsey associate company Analogue, called Stowaway about people so desperate to make a new life that they stowaway on planes. It’s based on a real-life incident which happened to the sister of one of the members of the company.
“Someone had frozen to death in the undercarriage of a plane and fell out of the sky into her garden. This person had flown from India and the company is looking at the life of that person and the journey they made.”
Elsewhere Metis will introduce audiences to the people who make our clothes via bar codes on shirts. Click on the bar code with your smartphone and get taken around the world to meet the person who worked on that section of the shirt.
The festival closes with a performance from comedy dance act the New Art Club called Feel About Your Body which features “a quite extraordinary set of gold lamé dance pants,” Ed said.
“New Art Club literally straddle the worlds of comedy and contemporary dance and we also have Gabblebabble doing The Bloody Ballad, an award-winning show, part psychobilly rock concert, part Quentin Tarantino – sort of blood and banjos. A great way to end the festival.”
The 2014 Pulse Fringe Festival runs from May 29-June 7.