Since Mayfest began life eight years ago, this Bristol-based festival of contemporary performance has grown in size, popularity and reputation year after year. In 2009 and 2010 Mayfest took ambitious leaps forward, dramatically increasing its length, the number of venues involved and the number of productions it programmed as well as the sheer size of some of the projects it presented. This year, however, the festival’s Artistic Directors, Matthew Austin and Kate Yedigaroff, decided not to push things further, preferring to set their sights a little lower in an effort to consolidate Mayfest’s position and security. Financial pressures on both theatre-makers and theatre-goers being what they are currently, this seems to have been a well-judged move and the festival itself really didn’t seem to suffer.
Although there was no stand-out show-piece event this year, the strength and range of the programme was still undeniable. Highlights for many were Little Bulb’s opera of adolescence, Operation Greenfield, a stunningly well put together production that left every audience member glowing. Equally seducing were the stunning 30 Cecil Street, an inventive and moving dance piece by Dan Canham and lively local favourite Sam Halmarak and The Miserabilites.
As with any festival there were also a fair share of productions that divided opinion: Guy Dartnell’s Something or Nothing seemed to be a real love it or hate it affair, NIE’s Tales From a Sea Journey struggled to inspire some while mesmerising others and Leo Kay’s intimate piece about family and heritage, It’s Like He’s Knocking, provoked a lot of debate.
The two shows that seemed to have everybody talking however were two that spanned the entire ten days of Mayfest. The first was Proto-Type Theater’s Fortnight, an interactive experience that made grand claims about transforming the way people saw their city. Submitting their addresses, telephone numbers and emails upon registration, participants were contacted several times a day for the ensuing two weeks with poems, abstract questions and clues that led onto interactive outdoor treasure hunts.
For some Fortnight provided just the magical experience advertised, providing innumerable memorable moments that helped them get under the skin of Bristol and understand the notion of home itself and their part in it. For others, Fortnight proved to be an incessant irritation with their relentless surreal messages being greeted with increasingly weary sighs. The ideas and themes Proto-Type explored were genuinely interesting and if there wasn’t an entire festival taking place people would undoubtedly have engaged much more with the project but with so much else going on these two weeks, five messages every single day along with numerous other tasks and projects was asking far too much.