From Light to Dark: Recognizing Collective Sorrow at the Brighton Festival


Tenebrae - Neil Bartlett - Brighton Festival 2021
Tenebrae – Neil Bartlett – Brighton Festival 2021

The Saturday May 22 live element sold out within hours – and 250 people will participate on that day in socially distant groups of 25. But the general public can still benefit from it online. A series of 15 graphic shorts featuring some of his sounds and words will be available on the Brighton Festival website from Saturday 8 to Saturday 22 May. The same link will also give you access to 15 specially commissioned poems, all from Brighton Writers, which reflect on the play’s themes.

Inspired by the liturgy of Tenebrae – the church ritual in which the lights gradually go out and the building falls back into darkness – a team of artists will fill the theater with sound and light, inviting the groups in attendance to live a haunting descent into the dark.

Tenebrae: Lessons Learned in Darkness is a Brighton Festival commission created by Miriam Allan (singer), Neil Bartlett (creator and director), Paule Constable (designer and lighting designer), Isabelle Haile (soprano), Rosaleigh Harvey-Otway (filmmaker) and digital producer), Reiko Ichise (viola da gamba), Joseph McHardy (musical director), Akila Richards (community writing co-curator) and Christopher Shutt (sound creator and designer). The 15 contributing writers are: Maria Amidu, Jenny Arach, Sheila Auguste, Yvonne Canham-Spence, Helen Dixon, Josephine Hall, Sam Kenyon Hamp, Oluwafemi Hughes-Jonas, Joseph Lee, Simon Maddrell, Lucie Naish, Georgina Parke, Mark Price , Zaid S Sethi and Sea Sharp.

Neil Bartlett said: “There are really two starting points for this, and one is the current building, the Theater Royal. The Theater Royal has been dark for more days in a row than it has ever been since it opened. It is an extraordinary place. It’s right in the middle of Brighton. It is one of Brighton’s best known, beloved and busiest buildings, and yet since the first lockdown it has been that dark empty space. And what does that mean? What does it represent?

“It’s our loss. It is our sadness. It is our absence. It is our darkness. And this is our silence. And that is our grief and in this building it is tangible when you remember that the purpose of this building is to be light and filled with people and yet it is empty and dark.

“The other starting point was a piece of music, Couperin’s haunting Dark Lessons. Our title is a punitive translation of the title. Couperin created this piece of music for a church service which was originally something that happened during Holy Week called Tenebrae where what happens is all the lights in the building are turned off one by one. until the congregation is in darkness. He created this extraordinary piece of music to accompany those 45 minutes of going from light to darkness, to create a piece of music where you can meditate on what it means to be plunged into darkness.

“I was talking to Paule Constable, one of the world’s most famous lighting designers, about this piece of music. She thought it was an amazing idea to turn off the lights and reflect on this gradual process until there was nothing left. I sent her the CD and she said we should do something with it, thinking of the Brighton Festival.

“Paule created a sequence of lights in the building that is the same length and shape as the original piece of music.”

Christopher Shutt has created a soundscape that will include the work of 15 local writers whose voices will speak about some of the ways we’ve all lived with the lights going out over the past difficult year.

“We have spent most of this year with Akila Richards (Co-Commissioner of Community Writing) working with 15 writers who live or work in Brighton. The youngest is 19 and the oldest is 70. The voices come from many different communities. We have come together as a group working online. We spent a month listening to the music and thinking about the music and the idea that the world is gradually turning to darkness. Everyone brought their own story, their own experiences of the past year. And everyone, each of the 15, created a poem responding to the crisis.

Graphic shorts have also been created and can all be enjoyed on the Brighton Festival website in preparation for the (full) event.

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