New Wolsey Theatre’s 17th Pulse festival gets underway in Ipswich
- Credit: Archant
The Pulse fringe theatre festival offers local audiences a first-look at brand new work before heading off to Edinburgh. Arts editor Andrew Clarke speaks to curators Ed Collier and Paul Warwick about this year’s line-up
Pulse – The New Wolsey’s 10-day Fringe Festival – unveils a bewildering array of new, exciting work from across the country before it heads off to Edinburgh.
For the fifth year running Pulse has been curated by Ed Collier and Paul Warwick, who are collectively known as China Plate, and work with the New Wolsey and Warwick Arts Centre supporting and developing new work for the fringe festival circuit.
Speaking on the run-up to the 17th Pulse festival, and their fifth as programmers, the pair are delighted with the way that East Anglian audiences are very supportive of new work. “If you look at the bookings we draw audiences from a wide area, right across East Anglia, because Pulse has got a great reputation for quality and because people like to see new shows early in the run.
“There’s nothing better than the national press raving about a show they saw in Edinburgh or in London and locally people can say: ‘Well, I saw it first at The New Wolsey as part of Pulse,’ and that means a lot.”
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One of the best attended and most popular strands of the festival are the Scratch Day and the Suitcase Day – both have a highly developed sense of their own character and their place in the festival. Scratch Day is devoted to company’s trying out new work or experimenting with works in progress while the Suitcase Day is about championing shows which can be transported to venues using only public transport.
This year the pair are pioneering a new strand: the Testing Ground Commission, presenting three new works at various stages of development which supports accessible and integrated theatre.
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“The New Wolsey has developed a very specific skill set about working with disability through their Ramps on the Moon project which resulted in Tommy earlier this season, and Test Ground is all about looking at how these skills can extended into other shows.
“We have leant our support to three new pieces at different stages of development. On Saturday, June 3, as part of Scratch Day, Nicola Werenowska’s work in progress Invisible gets to the heart of invisible disability. Working with Jeni Draper, artistic director of Fingersmiths, she experiments with physical form and drawing on real life experiences. On the same day Rachel Bagshaw presents an Edinburgh Festival preview of The Shape Of The Pain following its work-in-progress presentation in 2016.
“Then, on June 10, Kiruna Stamell and Rhona McKenzie present Disability Sex Archive a creative project exploring disability, sex & relationships. A play currently in development, they will be reading a selection of monologues and text, testing new writing for the first time on a real audience.”
After five years juggling the demands of audiences and performers how do they keep the programme fresh and interesting?
“It stays fresh because it’s a constantly evolving body of work. In many ways one of our key jobs is to respond to the shifts in the changing nature of the work and what people are interested in and finding out who the current, most exciting artists are,” says Ed.
“When we first came to Pulse we worked with the New Wolsey developing partnerships with other organisations like DanceEast and we are carrying on from there. One of the things that we really love is the development of Pulse Presents, where shows that were first seen in an early form in the festival, are staged in their final form as part of the main New Wolsey season. Audiences find it interesting to revisit these shows to see how much they have changed in the interim.”
Paul adds that each venue they work in has their own audience with distinct likes and dislikes. “I think over the years we have got to know the New Wolsey audience really well. Over the course of the year we see a lot of new work, read a lot of proposals, and we get a feel of what will work where.
“We see every one of the 50-plus shows and we see how the audience responds and so know what works at Pulse and what doesn’t. Audiences have gone up every year during our tenure so hopefully we are getting something right.”
He said that Pulse had a narrative-led, story-based programme which made it distinct from other alternative festivals like Spill which had a more performance-art focus.
“For us a lot of the programming time is spent making sure there is enough variety there so there is something for everybody and the New Wolsey box office staff are brilliant at knowing what everything is, so if anyone wants to come along and they don’t what a show is all about, then ask the box office because they will know.”
Panel: Ed and Paul’s Curators’ Choice – Six diverse events at this year’s festival
1) Golem by 1927 - big, internationally acclaimed, technically complex shows that offer a real sense of spectacle - ingenious and visually stunning. Enormously proud to have this doing a special one-off show as part of Pulse.
2) Good Grief by Jack Rooke - shows that tackle a serious subject with whilst being very, very funny - might well make you cry and then cry with laughter. Also a good example of a young artist who’s star is very much in the ascendence - award nominated and recent appearances on BBC Radio 4 and BBC 3.
3) Ugly Chief by Victoria Melody - an artist with a background in fine art who makes performance work about her own investigations into Britain’s pastimes and passions - previously pigeon racing, dog shows, Northern Soul, beauty pageants… this time Vic and her TV Antique Dealer Dad have made a show about a funeral that didn’t happen.
4) The Duke by Hoipolloi - this is one of those shows that sends you home with a warm fuzzy feeling. Shon Dale-Jones is an absolutely charming performer (you may know his alter-ego Hugh Hughes) and this show is not only a cracking yarn but also raises money for Save The Children’s Child Refugee Crisis. Great theatre that is actually making a difference in the world.
5) Tell Me Anything by On The Run - an opportunity to see a fully finished show that was previously seen as a scratch at Pulse 16 - in fact it won last year’s Suitcase Prize. This is a brave and touching story about being 15 years old and trying to deal with your girlfriend’s eating disorder.
6) Opening Night Double Bill (All The Things I Lied About by Katie Bonna and Maestro by Kieran Hodgson) because these are good examples of genre-busting shows - in this case comedy meets theatre - where you get the best of both worlds.