Features Festivals Published 17 May 2011

Bristol Mayfest 2011

A look at the festival highlights.

Matthew Whittle

The second show which spanned the ten days of Mayfest was by Search Party, another Bristol-based company who are garnering themselves a fantastic reputation nationally with their consistently heartfelt and thought-provoking work. During Mayfest they put on Save Me, a tender semaphore drama that saw the company’s two members, Pete Phillips and Jodie Hawkes, positioned at opposite ends of Bristol’s Floating Harbour for two hours every day. 200ft of water between them, Search Party had to squint to see each other but throughout Mayfest they were able to keep up a consistent dialogue through the use of semaphore. Conversations were scribed onto chalkboards so passers by could read and effectively watch them talking around themes of separation, long-distance relationships and loneliness. It sounds pretty formulaic on paper but seeing Save Me in action was strangely and undeniably beautiful, with some individuals being reduced to tears. There really was something magical in the way that each letter of their poetic conversations had to be painstakingly communicated through the waving of flags and how they were able to have such a rich and moving dialogue without one word being uttered: “The wind is taking you away from me but the wind you feel on your face is the same wind on my back”.

Search Party’s Save Me

As audiences have come to expect from Mayfest, the programme was varied and well considered but it wasn’t the shows themselves that were the real highlight of 2011. What sets a festival apart, what makes it more than just a sequence of shows,  are the events inbetween, those that fill the gaps: the workshops and talks that give audiences a much richer experience and provide platforms for real debate and interaction. It is this that Mayfest 2011 excelled at, particularly with two new endeavours that went down so well that they will no doubt become fixtures of Mayfests to come.

The first was the Mayfest Café, a daytime venue for tea, cakes, chats and performances right in the heart of the city that helped give the festival a real sense of presence and life. The second was The Blind Tiger, Mayfest’s very own festival speakeasy. For two weeks the tiny performance venue in the Bristol Old Vic known as the Basement was transformed from an unwelcoming black box space into a seductive Parisian bar completely with fringed lampshades, a marble bar and, most importantly, a tiny stage.

People were invited to sign themselves up to perform whatever they liked during Mayfest, be it a few songs, some live poetry, a sliver of a new show, some stand-up comedy, cabaret or interpretive dance. Anything and everything was encouraged and that’s exactly what The Blind Tiger got, night after night of fantastic unique performance in front of packed and enraptured audiences. The highlights here are far too many to mention but particular standout moments came from Publick Transport’s Angus Barr as he serenaded the crowd on his banjo with ballads about plastic bags, acapella Neil Young impressions from Guy Dartnell and Bristol Old Vic’s Artistic Director, Tom Morris, and a riotous night of lively shanty-folk from Little Bulb, a sickeningly talented company who can play about six instruments each. The Blind Tiger was an inspired idea from Mayfest and people will be talking about the fabulous nights they had in this new venue for many months to come.

Bristol Mayfest 2011 ran from 5th-15th May at various venues around the city. For further details, visit: Mayfest


Matthew Whittle

Matthew moved to Bristol in the early noughties to begin a love affair with the city that has lasted nearly a decade. Falling into writing quite by accident, he has since helped setup and run Bristol’s favourite independent magazine, an online previews and reviews compendium and a city-wide listings website, all whilst contributing to more publications and websites than he has fingers and toes. In between putting pen to paper, Matthew cycles relentlessly across Bristol, struggles to finish crosswords without cheating and tries to watch every piece of half-decent theatre going. When he does have a spare second, all he wants to do is write more.



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