The Brighton Festival may pride itself on being an event of national standing but, in terms of its themes and preoccupations, it's still very much a local affair. Over the past few years we have seen performances taking place in an abandoned Art Deco hotel; in the bowels of the town hall; under the stage of the Theatre Royal; and even in a public lavatory. This year, the theatrical innovators Fevered Sleep, led by the artist and writer David Harradine, have chosen a windowless basement for their latest work. Not the most prepossessing of surroundings, but it's a show that could only take place in Brighton.
An Infinite Line eschews the traditional theatrical narrative, instead offering a fractured meditation on the kaleidoscopic spectacle that is the city's coastline. Comprising two actors and two musicians, the show begins with a man reading out diary entries as he heads south on a train from London. As he leaves the capital, he notes the gradual shift in colour and atmosphere out of the window. Thus begins a series of scenes and set pieces – some intriguing, some baffling – intended to evoke the myriad moods, colours, sounds and textures to be found on Brighton beach.
If Harradine's list of hues sometimes read like a Farrow & Ball colour chart – Dead Salmon, anyone? – they can still be strongly evocative. Movable white panels frame the stage, allowing the performers to work on a sculptural canvas that, like the seascape itself, constantly changes shape and depth. Mirrors and watery projections are used in conjunction with words, light, sound and movement to recreate the changing perspectives throughout the seasons, and at different times of the day.
Musical accompaniment comes from a cello, violin and electronic soundtrack of eerie shuffles and pummelling bass frequencies. Less successful is the use of Louis Armstrong's classic but sadly clichéd "What a Wonderful World", which bookends the show.
An Infinite Line is, above all, a sensory experience, sometimes to the point of discomfort. When a cloud of chalk dust is released into the air, presumably to represent the chalky earth beneath the Downs, I'm not the only one trying to stifle splutters. More startling is the arrival of a real horse on stage, required to stand in the background for a good hour, though its significance is never explained.
There are other visual installations that work beautifully, however, and it's hard not to be seduced by Harradine and his company's vision.
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