Brighton Fringe is back and better than ever. Despite the turbulence of the pandemic, it’s impact on the arts and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the sector, Brighton’s famous arts festival is back in full swing with over 700 events taking place in the city across May and June 2022.
I had the privilege of chatting with Rachel Kimber, co-founder of female-led Not Your Muse Theatre. Alongside Zo Biba-Leonard and Elly Tipping, Kimber leads and supports young women in a variety of roles and stages in their career in the arts industry. This year, Not Your Muse Theatre are bringing their new production ‘Happenings’ to Brighton Fringe, a ‘pitch black comedy’ which explores mental health and vulnerability.
Kimber speaks candidly about the origin of the show and why it’s so important to see individuals recognised for their work: “We found that we’ve done so much stuff over the years that you just don’t get credited for theatre-wise. Generally, and it’s not a sexist statement because in our experience it’s true, it’s generally men that are doing that thing. So you know, you’re helping out with rewrites of plays, you’re troubleshooting safeguarding issues, you’re doing everything and you don’t get credited for it.
“And then Zo and Elly were involved in ‘Happenings’ , which is the new play by John Berry that we’re bringing to Brighton Fringe, and they went to see it in London at The Red Lion just as everything was coming out of COVID and the Coronavirus restrictions.
“I pitched up because the show hadn’t had enough promo and then we thought, well, we could do this better and we were offered it so we thought maybe this is the time, maybe this is our time. And we have so many other ideas of things we wanted to do with new female writers and mentoring people like graduates, uber talented people who people don’t always take seriously because of their age. It’s kind of snowballed! It went from within about two weeks of us saying, oh, yeah, yeah, we’re gonna do this, and then suddenly it was happening.”
The Brighton Fringe plays host to hundres of shows and productions, however few promise as much grit and dialogue surrounding the ongoing mental health crisis in the UK as Happenings does. The plot dives into the modern world we live in, where people measure value through ‘likes’ and ‘clicks’ on social media, and how it affects the characters, The play looks deep into the psyche of the three main characters who feel distinctly short change by life.
Kimber said: ‘‘It is about the unfilled aspirations and monotonous existence of three 30-somethings. It’s a pitch black comedy, which looks at issues of mental health – each character has an issue with mental health, whether it’s obvious or not to start with, because that’s what it’s like in life, isn’t it? Everyone’s mental health has peaks and troughs and it sort of explores that and the dynamic between the three people.
“You know, one of the characters is a neurodiverse character, which we feel, you know, is not necessarily represented in writing. It’s just about the dynamic of how they get on and how they get through their existence. And also, particularly for Jane, our character, Jane, she’s at this point in her life where she feels nothing’s happened to her. And she sees everyone on social media, because that’s how it’s pitched on social media: ‘Oh, everyone’s having a better time. Everyone looks better than you. Everyone’s got a better this and better that, everyone’s got someone’.’
Social media, whilst it allows us to stay connected to friends, family, and the world around us, has a dark side. The unfortunate effects of social media play a huge role in today’s society and on the mental health of so many, making Not Your Muse’s ‘Happenings’ an incredibly relatable reaction to the world we live in. I asked Kimber how she would like audiences to feel after leaving the show.
She said: ‘We found that a lot of the feedback we get is that it starts a conversation that people find they can talk about things to do with those particular mental health elements of it. Maybe because you’ve seen the play, you can kind of relate to it and then it makes the topic more approachable. There was feedback that one woman bought her (obviously it’s not necessarily for every teenager to younger teenager to watch) 14-year-old daughter and she said that on their journey home her daughter actually revealed to her that she was having some quite serious issues going on but she probably wouldn’t have done that – it was on the back of the play.
“And it touches people in different ways. Obviously we want you to be entertained, you’re entertained when you’re there, it’s a pitch black comedy, there’s comedy in there as there is in all the darkest parts of your life. But it’s for people to start to make people think and to start conversations.’
You can see ‘Happenings’ at the Brighton Fringe festival from the 10th-19th May 2022 at The Walrus in Ship Street, Brighton. For further details, visit the Brighton Fringe website to purchase tickets and browse the other events on offer this year.
Words by Jenny Bathurst