Pulse festival offers banquet of theatre for those who want to try something different
- Credit: Archant
Pulse, the New Wolsey Theatre’s annual celebration of inventive fringe theatre, is launched onto the world at the end of the month in a blur of limbs and inspired thoughts – some of which may have escaped from wartime codebreaking HQ Bletchley Park.
The opening night features two diverse showcases – the first a circus-skills acrobatic piece by the all-male trio Barely Methodical Troupe, who will be presenting Bromance which won a Total Theatre Award at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival and was described by The Stage as “a jaw-dropping magnificent show”.
The performance has been described as a witty and inventive mix of flawlessly-timed acrobatics, shoulder-high balances and is topped off with a stunning routine inside a spinning metal wheel.
This will be followed by a completely different piece of theatre – Idle Motion’s That is All You Need to Know, an engaging piece of visual theatre that tells the story of Bletchley Park and reveals the previously untold secrets of the remarkable men and women, such as Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, who cracked the enigma code during the Second World War.
This year’s ten-day festival, curated by fringe theatre producers China Plate, showcases 50 different new shows bringing together a wide range of ideas, thoughts, skills and experiences.
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The festival has been described as a theatrical kaleidoscope. Theatre that has been re-routed through an array of different influences including circus skills, stand-up comedy, poetry, songwriting, dance, playwriting and life experience. It is a festival which talks directly to its audience.
The festival is co-curated by China Plate’s Ed Collier and Paul Warwick in conjunction with the New Wolsey’s associate director Rob Salmon. Paul said: “The New Wolsey will be bursting at the seams with bold and beautiful shows from some of the most innovative and exciting theatre makers working in the UK.”
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Rob said Pulse is essentially keeping the New Wolsey and its audiences up-to-date with the exciting and ever-changing world of theatrical experience. “Pulse is our artist development programme. It’s how we tell the world what we are interested in, what we find stimulating, it’s how we bring people into Ipswich to develop their work and their ideas.
“We do this through a year-long programme of residencies and how we filter this work into the main theatre programme through a series of performances called Pulse Presents but I love the fact that for ten days we get to bring a vast amount of this innovative and exciting work into the New Wolsey building and into the studio where we can showcase the very best artists, can develop new work and where I can guarantee that everyone will find something that they will love.”
He said that the programme is assembled through an on-going year-long process of working with invited established artists and searching through a series of open auditions looking for imaginative and inventive work from people from all over the country.
“We are looking for work that we know our audience will respond to.”
China Plate’s co-founder Paul Warwick explained the thinking behind this season’s festival and said that they wanted to expand their reach and bring in more families and younger people. This year there would also be much more focus around the weekends offering a pack programme allowing people not only a greater choice but the timings of events would allow them time to move between different events. “We are thrilled with our line-up. I think the opening night sets out our stall pretty well and gives an indication of the quality that will follow. Bromance and That is All You Need to Know are both award-winning shows.
“Barely Methodical are one of the hottest young circus troupes in Britain and it’s not clowns running around throwing custard pies. It’s contemporary circus, it’s acrobatics but acrobats with a theme and one that tells a story – so it’s circus theatre.
“Idle Motion, who are bringing us a piece about the wartime code-breakers at Bletchley Park, are providing us with a very different physical theatre piece which uses personal testimony, multi-media technology and inventive staging to get us into the minds of some very extraordinary people. This should be very popular considering how well The Imitation Game did at cinemas and at The Oscars.
“New this year, Pulse features a new day of programming focused on deaf and disabled artists and audiences. A day of performance and provocation, aimed at inspiring theatre-makers to think and act differently around disability and inclusion, Ramps On The Moon (June 5) will include talks and performances from Fingersmiths and Sue Maclaine among others. This year, working with Agent for Change Jamie Beddard, Pulse aims to increase the number of deaf and disabled audiences by offering more accessible performances and programming more work with disabled performers.”
This dovetails into the New Wolsey’s role as a lead theatre, in conjunction with long-term collaborators Graeae theatre company, in re-evaluating how theatres up and down the country use disabled performers in their work, how they relate to disability and what they are doing to encourage more disabled people to engage with theatre.
This week the New Wolsey were awarded a record-breaking grant of £2.3 million to spearhead a six-year project along with the Birmingham Rep, West Yorkshire Playhouse, The Liverpool Playhouse and Everyman and the Sheffield Theatres among others.
Paul said that they were keen to encourage a wide range of first-time visitors to the theatre, to encourage people to come along who may think that theatre is not for them.
“In putting this year’s programme together we have tried to think of it as a menu. Everything on here is very palatable and there is something for a wide range of tastes.
“Of course, some people who come to Pulse like their flavours pretty strong, so there are choices on here that would have a three chilli rating on a Indian restaurant menu – things like The Ted Bundy Project from Greg Wohead, which looks at our morbid fascination with serial killers, then there’s War is Boring/War is Fun from Greyscale. They gave us Gods Are Fallen last year and this latest show is based on the diaries of artistic director Selma Dimitrijevic who grew up in The Balkans during the conflict in the 1990s. I am predicting this is going to be a very powerful piece of work.
“Also look out for Every Brilliant Thing, a show about a young boy whose mum has mental health problems and he writes a list of all the reasons she has to stay alive – an uplifting tearjerker and finally you won’t see anything else like This Is How We Die from Chris Brett-Bailey - described by one critic as more of a rite of passage than a show!”
The festival will also end each day with free music in the New Wolsey bar to entice in non theatre-going audiences and create a sense of community among the companies, artists and audiences and generally create a buzz around the festival and the work.
Returning again this year is the Suitcase Prize. This is a challenge for theatre-makers to come up with a show that can be moved from venue to venue on public transport. All their set, props and costumes should be able to be packed into a suitcase and carried by the people who are in the show.
“It’s the third year we have run this competition and it’s our attempt to create sustainable theatre and reduce the carbon footprint that touring leaves behind it. We have ten shows competing for the prize which is suitcase containing £1,000.
“The other regular feature which is making a welcome return is our Scratch Day where we preview works in progress and audiences are invited to provide feedback on new work that is currently in development.”
In addition to previewing new work, Scratch Day will also reveal what happens when a show comes full circle and is now complete. World Factory by Metis, trialled this show in 2013 and 2014, working out a complex audience-participation show which examines not only how our clothing is made but where it comes from.
One of the major additions to the Pulse programme this year is The Children and Young People’s Day which features workshops and performances including Kid Carpet and the Noisy Neighbours and Bookstory.
“For the first time this year, there will be an evening of work created by young people consisting of a double bill featuring A+E performed by students from East 15 acting school and the New Wolsey Theatre’s Young Associate Artists will present their own show Births, Deaths and Marriages.
“It asks the question, if adult life isn’t working out they way you planned, can you start again?”
Finally, Pulse and teamed up with the Latitude Festival, for the first time, to take part in the Spring Festivals Commission. This year’s chosen piece of work is Action Hero’s Wrecking Ball which will be performed as a work-in-progress on Saturday, May 30. Wrecking Ball generates a conversation about consent, authorship and putting words in other people’s mouths.
Paul said: “It is dialogue between the audience and two performers and it is shows what happens between a photographer and a celebrity and is about what it really means to say ‘yes’.
The Pulse Festival runs from May 28 to June 6 and is based at The New Wolsey, New Wolsey Studio and The DanceHouse.