How Brighton rocks at festival time

By Cecily Woolf, April 4, 2008

For big-time culture consumers, Brighton not only has the second largest arts festival outside Edinburgh, but lots more to offer the visitor beyond the tourist trail. Brighton itself has been a vibrant town since the days of the Prince Regent, but during the annual Brighton Festival (from May 3 to 25 this year) there is an extra buzz. The Dome Concert Hall in Church Street hosts a huge variety of events, including director Mike Leigh talking about his films, cellist Steven Isserlis in concert with the City of London Sinfonia, and a world premiere tribute to James Brown. The venue also sees Gore Vidal in conversation with Andrew Marr, but it is a sell-out. At the Corn Exchange, there is a talk by neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, while ex-MP Oona King and BBC political editor Nick Robinson debate A Matter of Trust and Hanif Kureishi discusses his plays.Nearby at the Charleston Festival, the actress Diana Quick reads poems by Sylvia Plath and playwright Patrick Marber discusses his collaboration with Sam Taylor-Wood on her film Love You More. Shakespeare will get some unconventional treatment when London’s Globe Company performs Romeo & Juliet among the graves of the Dyke Road Rest Garden. If that’s too spooky, then how about Shakespeare a la carte at the Pizza Express in Jubilee Square where actors from the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company deliver bite size dramas whilst you eat. Or you could view The Burst Pipe Dream in Jubilee Square. The free installation by the Bureau of Silly Ideas features acrobatics among mock road-works. Among the other 30 free events is the Happy Ever After Family Day when Hove’s St Anne’s Well Gardens transforms into Neverland, and The Big Splash at Brighton Marina where the festival will culminate in street theatre and fireworks. Free events in the Festival Fringe include a showcase, Fringe City from 1-6pm outside the Theatre Royal; a guided tour of Brighton’s historic Middle Street Synagogue from 2-5pm each festival Sunday, and the Artists’ Open House Scheme, where houses are sometimes as fascinating as the artwork. When not viewing festival events, there is plenty more to do and see in Brighton, such as the 60 flowering cherry trees in Stanmer Park, next to the University of Sussex, where in spring you can walk under a cascade of pink petals; or, in late spring, admire the magnificent collection of lilacs in Withdean Park. Kids will love the renovated Peter Pan’s Playground near the pier and the enchanting Ashdown Llama Park near Wych Cross. Follow the locals to avoid the holiday crowds by driving beyond Rottingdean to Peacehaven, which has a two-mile undercliff walk where chalk and earth have combined to create cliffs in beautiful shades of peach and gold. One of the best-kept secrets in Hove is a wonderful two-mile walk above Devil’s Dyke Road, flanked on one side by the Downs and a silvery-bright sea, and on the other side by fields full of wild flowers. On rainy days, take the charming Victorian-built arcaded walk which runs for three-quarters of a mile from just beyond the quaint, 19th-century Aquarium near Brighton Pier. And if all that fresh air gives you an appetite, pop in to the Mock Turtle, a pretty, award-winning tea-room hidden away in an alley off East Street which boasts the best Welsh Rarebit in England. Alternatively, follow the local cognoscenti to the Emperor of China in Brighton Marina for some gorgeous Tartuffo Il Classico chocolate ice-cream or real fruit sorbets from Menorca. The chef also provides a passable vegetarian imitation of Peking Duck, But for sheer style, discerning diners make for the Royal Albion Hotel, which offers a three-course buffet lunch in a Regency-style restaurant overlooking the sea, priced at £12 — for two. An added advantage to the vegetarian option is that your meal is cooked to order. Should these not appeal, there are 400 restaurants in Brighton and Hove. The Prince Regent would approve.

Last updated: 3:26pm, September 10 2008