Mayfest is Bristol’s biennial festival of contemporary theatre, celebrating unusual, playful and ambitious work from leading theatre-makers from all over the globe. The festival takes place from 10–20 May, and offers the chance to discover thrilling theatre in classic venues and more unexpected places across the city. If you’re visiting Bristol for the first time, Mayfest is a great way to explore while soaking up a bit of culture at the same time.

With a packed programme of 23 shows over 11 days, in 17 strikingly different venues, it can be hard to know where to start. We asked Mayfest’s organisers to give us a beginner’s guide to this unique festival…

Mayfest is…

…the Best of Bristol

Bristol is rich with creative talent and Mayfest is bursting with home-grown shows. If you’re looking for an experience that’s just for you, Draw to Look offers a one-to-one participatory performance, in which you and artist Hannah Sullivan sit and draw each other in the beautiful setting of Bristol Cathedral.

Caroline Williams and Syrian film-maker Reem Karssli will immerse you in stunning video and sound in their interactive video installation Now Is The Time To Say Nothing, while Choral Cuisine is a sonorous dining experience in a coffee roastery – you might just find a flute in your fork, percussion on your plate, or a choir in your cup.

Undersong places you at the meeting point between voices, from a whispered duet to a screaming mob. You can catch this world premiere at three very different and unique Bristol locations: Bristol Cathedral, St George's and Barton Hill Settlement – which will you choose?

Or maybe you fancy a trip to the seaside for The Killers, a sound work performed in a diner in Weston-super-Mare.

UNdersong mayfest

Image: Undersong, Verity Standen. Photo by Jack Offord

…International

The Canadians are coming. Halifax’s 2b theatre company land on Bristol’s shores with Old Stock (A Refugee Love Story), a gorgeous, rowdy, moving love story about first generation Romanian Jewish immigrants arriving in Nova Scotia. It’s like a joyful Klezmer musical, with an amazing central performance by Canadian superstar Ben Caplin. If you’re Kneehigh fans, or live music fans, this is the show for you.

Also from Halifax, Let’s Not Beat Each Other To Death is a genre-defying play/memorial/electro-pop dance party. Inspired in part by the brutal killing of a Halifax queer activist and an attack against an outspoken gay musician, it’s a celebratory tribute to LGBTQ+ people around the world who have been affected by violence.

Old stock

Image: Old Stock (A Refugee Love Story), 2b theatre company. Photo by Stoo Metz Photography

…Physical

Contact Gonzo jet in from Japan, bringing their unique physical style to Bristol – on the one hand it’s beautiful, flowing choreography that reminds you of martial art, and on the other it’s a kind of violent slapstick that will make you wince and laugh simultaneously. We can guarantee you’ll never have seen anything quite like it.

Set to a fresh dance-punk score, Velvet Petal offers contemporary dance with attitude, and if epic dance and music are your thing, then The Nature of Why is for you. Featuring a cinematic live-score from Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, an ensemble of musicians from the acclaimed British Paraorchestra and four extraordinary dancers, Bristol Old Vic’s stage will become a meeting place for audiences, dancers and musicians.

Velvet petal

Image: Velvet Petal, Scottish Dance Theatre. Photo by Brian Hartley

…Musical

Mayfest thrives on participation and interaction, and two shows involve collaborations between international artists and local musicians. Cult San Franciscan music maker Doug Hream Blunt will bring some funk to the festival when he flies in for a very special gig with The Cube Workforce, while WE ARE LIGHTNING! sees a local teen band, community choir and aging rockers perform in a music venue on the brink of closure, to mark and protest its demise and celebrate the way music shapes the lives of the people who play it.

Mesadorm launch their new album with a homecoming show at Trinity, and you can even catch a musical performance while you shop, with Town Choir, a free choral event in The Galleries Shopping Centre.

Pau Pahana

Image: Doug Hream Blunt. Photo by Pau Pahana

…Seriously funny

From shows about mental health and LGBTQ+ issues, to political theatre about Syria, Mayfest performers aren’t afraid of tackling big issues head-on. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be laughing too.

Ridiculusmus’ Mental Health Trilogy, Give Me Your Love, The Eradication of Schizophrenia and Complicated Grief is poignant, provocative and very funny. The shows explore complex and bewildering mental health experiences and somehow do it with pure entertainment at their heart.

If you want to feel uplifted and inspired, Live Before You Die is a true story of hopelessness and friendship told by two men on a desperate quest for happiness.

If you’ve ever found yourself living somewhere you don’t quite fit in, How (not) to Live in Suburbia is a hilarious, brutal look at what happened when single mother, artist and proud Londoner Annie Siddons found herself living in suburbia by accident.

How not to live in suburbia

Image: How (Not) to Live in Suburbia, Annie Siddons. Photo by Claire Nolan

…Not just for grown ups

For the very youngest theatre fans there’s Snigel and Friends, a charming, entrancing performance by an inquisitive snail and their insect friends, for babies from 0–12 months.

Drag Queen Story Time is exactly as it sounds. Drag Queens read stories to children, capturing the imagination and fun of the gender fluidity of childhood, while giving children glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In Drag Queen Story Time fairytales come to life and dress up is real.

And if you’re still not sure what to choose, the Mayfest team will be based in Arnolfini’s Front Room throughout the festival. Pop in for a chat, get a recommendation, hear an informal artist talk or just to hang out. We can’t wait to see you there.

Drag queen story time

Image: Drag Queen Story Time

For more information check out mayfestbristol.co.uk

Follow them on Twitter: @mayfestbristol

Or visit their Facebook page: mayfestbristol

Related

Mayfest: Draw to Look at Bristol Cathedral
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Mayfest: Draw to Look at Bristol Cathedral

In this one-to-one participatory performance, Hannah invites you to join her in the simple and deliberate act of looking and noticing through drawing.

Mayfest: The Killers at The Regent Cafe
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Mayfest: The Killers at The Regent Cafe

The Killers is a live binaural sound work performed at The Regent seaside diner in Weston-super-Mare. Sat in the diner, the audience wear headphones and watch as the audio is constructed; eavesdropping on conversations

Mayfest at Bristol Old Vic
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Mayfest at Bristol Old Vic

Mayfest takes over the city with some of the best and brightest theatre from around the world.

Mayfest: Undersong at Barton Hill Settlement
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Mayfest: Undersong at Barton Hill Settlement

Nine singers build a vibrant language of a cappella music and movement as they bring to life a series of brand new compositions, which move between tender and expansive.

Mayfest: Drag Queen Story Time at Arnolfini
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Mayfest: Drag Queen Story Time at Arnolfini

Drag Queens read stories to children, capturing the imagination and fun of the gender fluidity of childhood, while giving children glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.

Mayfest: How (not) to Live in Suburbia at Trinity Centre
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Mayfest: How (not) to Live in Suburbia at Trinity Centre

A few years ago in the middle of a shitstorm of life events, single mother, artist and proud Londoner Annie Siddons found herself living in suburbia by accident. This show is a hilarious, brutal and poignant attempt to describe what happened next.

Mayfest: Undersong at St. George's Bristol
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Mayfest: Undersong at St. George's Bristol

Nine singers build a vibrant language of a cappella music and movement as they bring to life a series of brand new compositions, which move between tender and expansive.

Mayfest: Contact Gonzo vs Bristol at Jacob's Wells Baths
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Mayfest: Contact Gonzo vs Bristol at Jacob's Wells Baths

Making their UK debut at Mayfest, Contact Gonzo bring their unique, playful, jaw-dropping physical style to Bristol. It's violent and tender, very funny and very serious.