Brighton’s SICK! Festival in tune with the times

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With all the anxieties following the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, it seems Brighton’s SICK! Festival may have been just a little prescient when it launched in 2013.

Since then, the festival has presented more than 200 events featuring more than 300 artists, at 25 locations in Brighton and Manchester, attracting audiences totalling more than 200,000 people. 2017 will see the festival grow further across Manchester and Brighton in 26 venues with 82 speakers, 116 artists, 66 performances, 18 public installations, 14 UK premieres, 13 discussion events and five co-commissions.

Happening simultaneously in the two cities from March 20-25, it offers in Brighton 21 performances, 40 artists, five discussion events, three public space installations and four new commissions – all under this year’s themes of belonging and identity, trauma and well-being.

Tim Harrison, creative director of SICK! Festival, said: “It certainly feels even more relevant this year. When we started doing SICK! we were thinking about what was urgent in people’s lives in terms of mental health, illness, the social issues that surrounded us, and then two years ago, having done a lot of work on physical and mental illness, we started looking more and more at the social context that generates those personal issues. Now this year we are looking at ‘What makes me me?’, at what makes us who we are, but then since we started those conversations, the whole world seems to have gone bonkers! We have got all these issues of individuality and all these issues of our relationship to people who are different to ourselves, people who are from different countries. We seem to have hit the nail on the head. Our plan is to have a conversation where all these different points of view can come together. We have our own political views. It is very political, but it is not party political. It is very easy for us to be good groovy liberal people with open minds and imagine that prejudice and hostility are things that other people have and are other people’s problems. But what is now clear is that everybody has some prejudice and anxiety. I think that is something that Brexit has shown us. People with good education and wealth seem to have failed to understand a massive part of the population. You can see that is part of a bigger context. We are all very tempted to slag off Donald Trump, but we try to make the festival an open conversation for people of all views and opinions.”

The festival runs with a six-day programme featuring theatre, dance, film and public art from around the world, alongside debates, talks and other events presented at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, across the University of Sussex Falmer Campus and in Jubilee Square. SICK! piloted four years ago when it was put together within weeks of funding being secured. It enjoyed a successful debut and returned the following year. It is now held every other year, simultaneously in Brighton and Manchester.

“Brighton and Manchester have got a lot in common. They have both got exciting social history and a history of social and political radicalism, but obviously in some ways they are very, very different. Manchester is a big city with lots of social and economic issues and problems that go with that. Brighton is obviously much smaller. But the link works – and with an international programme, it means we can bring work to Brighton.”

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