Review: Worthing Festival 2023 ★★★★★
It’s the first year of Worthing Festival, cannily placed on the calendar straight after nearby Brighton Festival & Fringe at the beginning of June, a more reliable month than May to enjoy the sun, sea, sand (when the tide is out) and art deco architecture of this walkable, relaxing resort town.
With the likes of the Edinburgh Fringe becoming ever more out-of-reach in terms of expense and the fight for available accommodation, there are distinct advantages to visiting smaller cultural events in order to discover local artists and performers, while checking out shows on the general festival circuit without breaking the bank.
Starting off at the station, we take a short walk to Worthing Museum and the exhibition Filling the Void: 35 Years of Television Production Design, which displays the work of Richard Drew. Whatever your favoured era of telly-watching, you’re bound to have seen Richard’s imaginative, immersive sets, as he started off on the likes of Bergerac, moving on to late-night Channel 4 TV, then comedies such as The Inbetweeners, before present-day series including The Witchfinder. When we visited, Richard was there in person to chat about a career which has spanned many technological changes, from traditional draughtsmanship to computer visualisations. Coming full circle, the show includes set models created by current students at Northbrook College, where Richard trained back when it was the West Sussex College of Design.
Then it’s on to the gallery upstairs, where Out of the Artist – the first LGBTQIA+ exhibition at Worthing Museum – is curated and coordinated by Keira Thomas, local poet and event manager for Worthing Pride 2019. In this safe and accepting space for local independent artists, we were particularly drawn to Amelia Amande’s colourful and illustrative work that uncovers, recovers and remembers LGBTQIA+ stories from mythology and folklore that have been censored, sanitised and overlooked. Another highlight was photography by Gil Mualem-Doron, with images displayed here as banners that appear dream-like and ethereal in the sunny seaside light of the bright gallery space.
We left the museum to visit the nearby Connaught Theatre, where we were greeted by a host from Worthing Film Club, wearing an impressive hat replica of the art deco building itself. We were directed to the bar upstairs, where we studied a display on the history of Worthing cinema, afterwards resting on a comfy sofa to watch short films made in the local area. We enjoyed a compelling animation based on the memories of a man living through the second world war, an episode of the comedy series ‘Undiscovered Country’ – in which intrepid explorers Liz and Jessie set off in search of the undiscovered places of England – and a humorous short based on the very literal properties of a supernatural kind of memory foam.
There were more films to watch, but it was time to move onto Montague Square, just down the road, where we attended yet another free show, WILD by Motionhouse, a company based in Leamington Spa that produces world class dance-circus performances. WILD creates the impression of an urban forest, where performers traverse a tall, scaffolding-like structure. We weren’t sure how long we’d last standing in the blazing sunshine, but the 45-minute runtime passed quickly, as we enjoyed the clever mix of contemporary dance and death-defying acrobatics, with the stunts executed seemingly effortlessly amongst the choreography. Several children in the audience were clearly fascinated – this kind of casual encounter with an impressive performance in an everyday setting is how a lifelong interest in the arts can start.
We returned to the Connaught Theatre for our one paid experience, this time in the studio theatre. Police Cops in Space, fresh from a run at the Brighton Fringe, is a frenetic, surreal comedy which makes great use of minimalist props to create a sci fi epic, complete with laser guns, Tron bikes and space craft. The quick fire, slapstick delivery of the three performers combines an entertainingly rough-around-the-edges style with some well-timed physical comedy.
Then we made our way back to the station, impressed by the quality and variety of what we’d seen without spending very much at all. The festival was inspired by conversations asking for more visibility for the town’s wealth of cultural talent, with the organisers hoping that following this debut, the concept will be owned, developed and delivered by the community. There was much more to experience on the programme beyond our day trip, and we look forward to returning next year to discover more.
Worthing Festival runs from 10th-18th June 2023 – check out the programme here.
Lucy is a scriptwriter and producer in theatre and film – find out more about her work here – and a researcher who enjoys getting out from behind the desk to find new things to do and sometimes review.