Problem in Brighton – The Old Market, Hove – 12th May 2018
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Problem in Brighton –- The Old Market, Hove - 12th May 2018

Problem in Brighton – The Old Market, Hove – 12th May 2018

This year’s choice of Brighton Festival Artistic Director was a relatively brave one. David Shrigley is an artist who sits well outside traditional notions of ‘fine art’ and concentrates almost exclusively on conceptualism and its inherent messaging (whether it is understood or not).

So, much like the ubiquitous simple line drawing of a bent nail being hammered, Problem in Brighton was some attempt to use one stringed, and home-made guitars, to impart some kind of message about, well, anything.

It seems that any initial concept and message was cast aside as Shrigley and his Brighton-based collection of musicians and singers very quickly united and put together a show in a little under three weeks. This, however, could have been the ‘problem’ in the title; the show named many months ago for reasons of publicity. The problem being that we are surrounded by them, day in day out, everywhere we go. Big problems, little problems. Problems of immense economic and social consequence, trivial problems that only concern the individual. Not forgetting problems of our own making. The show was conceived and named many months ago, but the actual performance only got ‘nailed’ down in the weeks leading up to the festival.

The result was an intriguing and well played piece of art school rock. A gig, for all intents and purposes, but with a lot more thought gone into the visuals and set pieces than an average rock’n’roll gig.

Arriving on stage one-by-one, wearing matching cowboy shirts, lined-up, and playing their ‘guitars’ in a vaguely The Fall-ish repetitive manner, it is up to Scottish actress Pauline Knowles (who has previously worked with Shrigley) and Stephan Kreiss (a performer with Brighton-based comedy-theatre troupe Spy Monkey) to really bring the show to life. This is done as they brilliantly sing and slapstick their way through a collection of songs about twisted ankles, the monarchy, Michael Gove, shoes, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a long list of mishaps and ‘problems’, a song about how we will eventually all die, and foreign meat set to the tune of ‘Kumbaya’ in a Gregorian chant style. Yes, it was all in there, bar the veritable kitchen sink, but somehow glued together by the performances, and presentation.

Musically, there’s Wire, the aforementioned The Fall, krautrock, some cod-soul, John Grant, new wave, a mangled ‘God Save the Queen’, and warped rock’n’roll. Again, thanks to the musical direction of Lee Baker (who plays a bass), it's stitched together relatively seamlessly.

However, there is always that question mark hanging over proceedings, brought home by an audience member while Kreiss hams it up big-time via the smashing of a (soft) guitar against his forehead. A kid shouts out “What is that man doing?” to much laughter. It’s almost an Emperor’s New Clothes moment. Yet, Shrigley (kind of) knows what he is doing, even if it feels like it’s been made up as he goes along. It’s just a patchwork vision of a surreal, and mad 21st century world here in Blighty, where the fun is in poking fun at people, and in a light-hearted fashion. Perhaps the vague yet staggeringly simple idea is that we are all animals, but with bigger brains, and loads of shoes. And, for those in the audience, loads of imagined and not-terribly-serious problems within our realms. We all have one string to our bow. Whatever that may be. Perhaps Shigley's is Art as Humour.

Jeff Hemmings

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