Brighton Festival 2021: What to See and Where to Stay

Brighton Festival 2021 will put on several thrilling events
Brighton Festival 2021 will put on several thrilling events | © Mark Morreau / Brighton Festival
Photo of Chloe Thrussell
Junior Production Assistant27 April 2021

As lockdown eases across the UK, the eagerly anticipated revival of public arts festivals has begun – starting in Brighton.

Set to take place in May, the 54-year-old Brighton Festival returns with more than 90 events, exhibitions and installations across Brighton and Worthing. Poet, writer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE, guest director for the cancelled 2020 edition, returns to lead the festival this year under the theme of “care”. And what could be more apt after this year of collective uncertainty and isolation? The festival will consider this theme across its strands of theatre, film, music, literature and comedy.

From 17 May, government guidelines dependent, live performance venues will open for the first time since March 2020. And with a variety of indoor, outdoor and online events, social-distancing measures such as reduced capacity seating, ticketed free events and temperature checks at some venues will provide a necessary backdrop to the festival.

There’s a wealth of talent coming to Brighton to perform – comedians including Josie Long and Mark Watson, authors Dame Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen, while actress Jane Horrocks showcases a personal memory shop in Dukes Lane. Here are some of Culture Trip’s highlights from this year’s festival, and some lodgings to book for your stay.

What to See

Ray Lee: Points of Departure

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Points of Departure, Ray Lee Brighton Festival 2021
© Roy Riley / Brighton Festival
Award-winning sound artist and composer Ray Lee brings his singing sculptures to the concrete thickets of Shoreham Port. Take a walk through towering tripods fitted with illuminated swinging speakers, and listen to their sci-fi symphony as they rotate higher and higher. Haunting, dynamic and dazzling, this installation quite literally dances in the dark.

May 1 to May 23; tickets cost £15.

Yara + Davina – Arrivals + Departures

Architectural Landmark, Music Venue
Map View
Arrivals+ Departures image by Tom McClaughlan in collaboration with the artists small
© Tom McClaughlan / Brighton Festival
What is the power in the act of naming? Concerning birth, death and the journey in between, this interactive work by Yara + Davina both celebrates and commemorates life, naming those born and lost on conventional airport-style arrival and departure boards. This platform invites the audience to contribute names of their loved ones, encouraging a communal reflection on grief and collective care.

April 30 to May 8, Pavilion Gardens; entrance is free.

Blast Theory – Rider Spoke

Map View
Rider Spoke_Brighton Festival 2021_credit Blast Theory
© Blast Theory / Brighton Festival
Blast Theory return to this year’s festival with a meditation on the influence of technology on human connections via an immersive cycling tour of the city streets. Guided by a narrator on a specially designed app, and with no particular destination, you will be drawn to unexpected places in search of the perfect hiding place for a secret. The city itself becomes the interactive space for this guided game.

May 1 to May 23; tickets cost £5.

The Forked Forest Path

Art Gallery
Map View
Olafur Eliasson, The Forked Forest path, 1998, copyright the artist. Installation view. Image_ Towner Eastbourne 2
Courtesy of Brighton Festival
Immerse yourself in the sprigs and limbs of a fictive forest in this exhibition at Fabrica that has sprouted from the mind of installation artist Olafur Eliasson. Tempting, twisting trails will lead you through the varied scents and textures of the winter copse, sustainably sourced from Stanmer Park. Get lost among the twigs and tendrils of this impressive, fairytale feat.

May 18 to June 20; entrance is free.

Le Gateau Chocolat – Liminal

Map View
© Lee Faircloth / Brighton Festival
For a contemporary fusion of disco, opera and pop, legendary drag artist and cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat returns to Brighton with a unique vocal performance at Brighton Dome. Known for works that centre on otherness, tolerance and self-acceptance, this one-night-only portrait will articulate the intimate experience of an artist living through a year of turmoil and change. It will ask the question: where do we go and who do we become when we lose our anchor?

May 30; tickets cost £20.

BAIT with Live Score by Gwenno and Georgia Ellery

Theater, Music Venue
Map View
Georgia Ellery_Brighton Festival 2021
Courtesy of Brighton Festival
The Bafta-winning Bait (2019) is presented anew at the Brighton Dome alongside a live performance by Welsh-Cornish singer Gwenno Saunders. Deemed a bizarre expressionist melodrama, Mark Jenkin’s film depicts the stark and embittered tensions between locals and tourists in a once-thriving fishing village in Cornwall, and does so through the ghostly grains of black-and-white 16mm film. This meeting of social realism and poetic sensibility is amplified by a new score, with synth, violin and live vocals adding new textures to this dreamlike, modern masterpiece.

May 22; tickets cost £18.

Where to Stay

Brighton Square Apartments

Serviced Apartment, Apartment
Map View
Brighton Square Apartments
Courtesy of Brighton Square Apartments / Expedia
A stay in Brighton doesn’t get more central than in the historic Lanes. These airy one- and two-bed apartments, which come with a bath, 40in LCD TV and washing machine, are within easy reach of many festival venues. Step outside your door into the maze of alleyways that comprise the Lanes; enjoy the independent shops and cafes, and you’re only a five-minute walk from the beach, Brighton Palace Pier and the Royal Pavilion.

Artist Residence Brighton

Boutique Hotel
Map View
Courtesy of Artist Residence / Expedia
If you’re looking to take festival creativity home with you, book a stay at Artist Residence Brighton. Each of the 24 rooms are individually designed by local artists, making a stay at this boutique property in Regency Square, just off the seafront, a one-off. Rooms aren’t huge, so for more space opt for a sea-view apartment; all options come with a rainfall shower, writing desk and coffee maker, while some offer a rolltop bath and a balcony. Downstairs, the laid-back Clubhouse bar/lounge has chilled-out seating areas serving brunch through to evening cocktails. Book your stay after May 17, when hotels are due to reopen.
These recommendations were updated on April 27, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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