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The Pulse Festival turns 17 this year. For humans, 17 can be a contradictory age – you’re expected to start behaving like an adult but are still prone to acting like a teenager; you can join the army, but can’t vote or legally buy alcohol; you’ve got a driving licence – and still need acne cream! Now whilst I’m not going to suggest that the life of a contemporary theatre festival mirrors that of humankind, there is nevertheless something to be made of the comparison.
Pulse was born as a spotty yoof of a theatre festival: gauche, unrefined, often abusive and prone to outbursts of gratuitous violence and shameless showing off. Seventeen years on Pulse can, occasionally, still be all these things, yet whilst it is still capable of jumping up and shouting w****r at you before sniggering childishly from behind a bottle of cheap cider, it has also matured.
As with all offspring, good parenting is the foundation of good growth. Although single parents often do great things by their children, and there’s no doubt that the New Wolsey’s motherly nurturing and indulgence of Pulse during its formative years laid the foundation of its success, few would argue that the input of a second parent can add balance and perspective which can only be beneficial. So it has proved for Pulse, with the arrival five years ago of a step-father in the form of China Plate’s Ed Collier and Paul Warwick. Like the best step-parents, they have showered their new responsibility with attention and love, treating it as dearly as they would one of their own. And the results are there for all to see. Pulse has grown into the sort of festival people want to be seen with, which is mature enough to know what it does well, yet confident enough to try something new.
Running this year over the first ten days of June, Pulse balances 23 finished shows with 23 works in development on a fulcrum of returning work from Fuel, This Egg, Sh!t Theatre and Kieran Hurley. Two top comedy shows from the Edinburgh Fringe open the festival on June 1st. Kieran Hodgson’s Edinburgh Comedy Award nominated show Maestro is first up at 7pm followed at 8.45 by All The Things I Lied About. Part TED talk, part confession, Katie Bonna’s show purports to unpick how everyday lies can lead to the triumph of Trump and Brexit and the ‘post-truth’ era we apparently now inhabit – which seems to suggest that before Trump and Farage politicians told the truth. Presumably all will be revealed on the 1st.
Hugh Hughes’ Story of a Rabbit would certainly be a contender for the best Pulse opener ever and Shon Dale-Jones, the creator of Hugh Hughes, will be performing a free show on June 9th. The Duke won a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, and explores kindness, generosity and the value of what we do. Although the show is free to audiences the show hopes to raise money for Save The Children’s Child Refugee Crisis Appeal through donations from audience members.
The Suitcase Prize and Scratch days both return, with Scratch day (June 3rd) featuring a preview of Ugly Chief, a new commission by the Pulse Festival from Victoria Melody. New this year is the Testing Ground Commission which supports accessible and integrated theatre. On Sat 3 June as part of Scratch Day, Nicola Werenowska’s work in progress Invisible gets to the heart of invisible disability. On the same day Rachel Bagshaw presents an Edinburgh Festival preview of The Shape of the Pain, following its work-in-progress in 2016. She returns to the festival with her new piece about love, perception and constant, relentless pain, co-commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre and the New Wolsey Theatre. On Sat 10 June, Kiruna Stamell and Rhona McKenzie present Disability Sex Archive, a creative project exploring disability, sex & relationships. This work is currently in development and Kiruna and Rhona will be reading a selection of monologues and text, testing this new writing for the first time on a real audience. That sounds like an interesting session to attend.
It seems to me that the titles of shows at this year’s Pulse are a little more sedate than has often been the case, although there does appear to be a mini-theme emerging as three show titles mention death or dying and another, grief. My nomination for best show title this year goes to Bubble Schmeisis on June 5th. In Yiddish bubbemeisis means a tall-tale or an old wives tale and a schvitz is a Jewish steam bath. The creator of Bubble Schmeisis, Nick Cassenbaum, is himself a Jew, yet found it difficult to connect with his Jewish identity, something which even time spent in the Park Lane End at White Hart Lane failed to rectify. But a trip with his grandfather to a schvitz in Canning Town changed that. This odd piece of theatrical folk-history combined with intimate personal account would be easy to overlook in the packed Pulse programme but has the smell of a classic Pulse show; unconventional, enthralling and hilarious.
Ticket prices start at £10 and there are discounts for multiple bookings and deals for special days. You can view the entire Pulse programme at www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/pulse-festival or by picking up a brochure, after which all you need to do is grab a bottle of cheap cider and be prepared for anything.