Brighton Festival: The Nature of Why smashes down barriers between audience and performers

The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004325001
The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004325001

Artists, composers and performers are increasingly keen to label their work immersive but few can manage to attain the experience achieved by the Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome on Sunday (May 5).

The lucky few who attended the two evening shows will have felt a previously unimaginable level of involvement, gained from their presence on the stage and their interaction with the musicians and performers.

The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004338001

The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004338001

Right from the start it was clear that it was going to be something special as the visibly-relaxed musicians from the Paraorchestra padded barefoot around the Dome bar just minutes before the supposed start of the show.

Soon after the audience milled into the Dome but were kept to the back of the theatre as an explanation was given about structure of the evening’s performance.

We were told the production was inspired by Nobel prize-winning theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, a man who always dared to ask: why?

Festival goers were told they would be up close and personal with the talent on stage and we were encouraged to explore the stage and not to miss out on a thing, but also to remain mindful of everyone else around us.

The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004350001

The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004350001

Immediately after, following a great many visits to the Dome, I found myself in unchartered territory, walking, with the rest of the audience, around the side of the auditorium, towards the stage.

Members of the on-stage troupe were already among us as we made the short journey and began to sing and chant.

After passing through hitherto forbidden doors, we were on the stage, together with the musicians and dancers, who were already in game mode and whipping up the atmosphere for the expectant, and slightly nervous interlopers.

I have to confess I took a moment to soak it up. It’s unlikely I’ll end up on that stage again in a hurry, and I looked torwards my usual position in the seats, and took some time to think about all those who’d taken in that view in the past.

The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004425001

The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004425001

But the introspection didn’t last long, and couldn’t possibly, given the sight and sounds around us.

The live score, composed by Will Gregory (he of Goldfrapp and many other musical endeavours), began gently in a repetitive style, which had echoes of Steve Reich’s minimalist music.

It took a while to take everything in. Initially I saw a smiling electric guitarist with an impressive amount of effects pedals, then I spotted the show’s four dancers, who would soon be performing dizzying movements, but at first seemed to be getting their bearings and wandering among the spectators.

As the sounds began to build I belatedly noticed the main bank of musicians, including a string section and conductor, towards the front of the stage.

The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004436001

The Nature of Why at the Brighton Dome. Photo by Xaxier Clarke SUS-190905-004436001

The pre-show warnings had been vindicated, this wasn’t Later with Jools Holland and if you stood still stroking your chin, you’d miss out.

Photos of the stage mise-en-scène really don’t do justice to the constant evolving dynamics of the dancers, nor their proximity and intimacy with the audience.

Their athleticism and energy was astonishing, and seeing them just inches away showed their intensity and wild expression of the dance,

At times the dancers would, literally, lean on those spectating, or take their hands and dance with them.

Some of those spectators, who I’m sure were still enjoying the show, had a look of fear in their eyes and gave the impression they would rather donate a kidney than do too much dancing.

But that was fine because there were enough game, loose limbed and elegant volunteers who took up that offer and made their own contribution to the performance.

It was also a very different experience to feel the music at such close quarters. The vibrations of the double bass and the irresistible rhythm of the percussion and drums.

As proceedings built, all too soon, to a loud climax, sleigh bells and other percussive instruments were handed out to willing audience hands.

There were, unsurprisingly, smiles all round at the end of the show and the crowded stage showed no immediate sign of emptying, as conversations sparked into life.

The event will stay in the minds of everyone who shared the stage with the performers of this fascinating and remarkable show.