brighton festival announces 2021 programme and there’s loads to look forward to

Brighton Festival announced its full programme on Tuesday as it prepares to return with an exciting line-up of indoor, outdoor and online events, interactive projects and installations in May.

As we previously reported, poet, playwright and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE is returning to curate the festival. He’s chosen the theme of ‘care’ for this year’s edition.

His vision is that the arts and this festival will play a key part in the healing of communities and in the care we show ourselves and each other after the momentous tragedy of the past year.


The varied programme reflects this, too, featuring both joyful and celebratory events and opportunities to reflect on and discuss what’s been happening socially and politically.

“We have cared more through this pandemic than at any other time during our lives. The Arts cares, and the act of going to the theatre with somebody you love and engaging with something that will expand your imagination, that is care, and I want us to come together and to take care to heart in these projects,” he said.

2021 highlights
There will be a total of 94 events this year, including 24 specially commissioned for online and 18 for outdoors. Thirty of the in-person events are free of charge.


So what can we look forward to seeing? As well as 10 world and UK premieres and commissions, 2021’s diverse line-up will include a host of immersive events, such as fairytale installation The Forked Forest Path by Danish-Icelandic visual artist Olafur Elliason.

Outdoor events feature strongly, too. These include artist Ray Lee’s Points of Departure, an otherworldly sculpture and sound installation; Under The Wild Wood Tree, a magical trail through Stanmer Woods that takes in light sculptures against a backdrop of choral soundscapes; and Recovery Poems, light poems that will visit public spaces across the city on the opening weekend.

Cabaret star and musical phenomenon Le Gateaux Chocolat is returning with a one-night-only performance in Liminal, while the festival will also feature the world premiere of Yolk & Aliens, a piece co-created by actress Jane Horrocks. Taking place in a unique ‘memory shop’ in Dukes Lane, it relates Horrocks’ own story through films that reflect on her role as a mother and on her relationship with her own mother who has Alzheimer’s.


There are plenty of events for the public to get involved in, too, including Arrivals and Departures. This striking public installation in Pavilion Gardens by artist duo Yara + Davina will display the names of people submitted by the public as a way of celebrating and commemorating a birth or a death.

Sissay himself will be launching Tell Me Something About Family, an online project constructed from the family experiences of others. The idea was partly inspired by his own experiences in foster care and children’s homes until the age of 17, but also ties into the Covid-19 pandemic and the overall theme of the festival.

Members of the public can submit their experiences for inclusion via the Brighton Festival website. These can be anything that represents family, from childhood memories or the smell of your mum’s cooking to pandemic experiences.


Socially distanced capacities
In line with the easing of lockdown, 52 events are scheduled to happen indoors from 17 May, with Covid-safe, socially distanced capacities of between 25-300 people, depending on the location. Brighton Dome, for example, will be running at under 20 percent of its 1,800 capacity to ensure everyone has plenty of space moving around and sitting in the venue.

However, there are contingency plans in place should the government’s roadmap out of lockdown be delayed.

“We planned the festival so that it can go ahead in whatever circumstances,” said Andrew Comben, Brighton Festival chief executive.

“We hope that, barring a complete lockdown, performances behind closed doors will still be possible and we have then planned to be able to take these online if we need to.”

Particularly given the limited capacities, we’d recommend booking quickly to ensure you don’t miss out!

1st – 31st May 2021

By Charlie Ridler

Photo credits: Lee Faircloth, Ray Lee, Olafur Eliasson, Tom McClaughlan in collaboration with Yara + Davina