In Sussex, we are blessed with a number of great cultural and arts centres, and Brighton Dome and Museum are two of my favourites. You’ll find all sorts of curiosities and intrigues here, and whatever time of the year, or whoever you’re with, there is always something going on to draw you in.
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
I first stumbled across Brighton Museum by accident. I absolutely love the Royal Pavilions but I had never been into the adjacent museum until I found myself lingering in the Pavilion gardens with a couple of hours to kill. The museum is one of Britain’s oldest public museums and it’s fair to say, home as it is to all sorts of different collections, it’s eclectic, diverse, and enthralling in equal measure.
The collections include 20th-century art and design, fashion, fine art, pottery and arts and crafts from across the world including from Ancient Egypt. With my own personal love of Russian history, I was beyond excited to learn that a number of Fabergé items were “discovered” at the museum in 2019 and are currently on display. They include a gold-mounted photograph frame in translucent purple enamel and a beautiful smaller frame in rose pompadour enamel.
No one is yet sure who the two ladies depicted in the photos in the frames are, although there is some thought that one may be Princess Alice of Battenberg, great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, mother of the Duke of Edinburgh. There are also “two enamelled gum pots, one with a moonstone finial and the other topped with a garnet and objet de luxe, in the form of a striking blue, stamp damper”. How these items came to be in the museum is itself a mystery and we’ll be sharing more details about this soon. By way of a teaser, it may involve a spy!
Apart from having a diverse and interesting programme of events, the Dome is another beautiful Brighton building with a great story to tell. The Dome has three parts: The Concert Hall (which used to be the Prince Regent’s stables and was inspired by the Halle au Ble (Corn Market) in Paris), The Corn Exchange (which was built as the riding school for the Prince Regent (later George IV)) and The Studio Theatre built on the site of Mrs Fitzherbert’s stables.
On the subject of Mrs Fitzherbert, Maria Fitzherbert (1756 – 1837) was the secret wife of George, Prince of Wales, the future George IV. Described by some as a cougar, there’s a nearby pub of the same name. Back in the early 1990s, I was a trainee barrister working in offices that overlooked the Dome, and I recall that I used to be able to get mussels, chips and a glass of white wine for £10 from Mrs Fitzherbert’s on my way back from court. But I have digressed. Again.
Apart from Fabergé treasures, a couple of interesting events coming up at the Dome have caught my eye.
Brighton & Hove Black History’s Family Day
Sunday 21 November from 11 am to 5 pm. Some activities may need to be pre-booked.
This is a free event celebrating African and Caribbean culture and heritage. The day includes a performance by Gambian Master Percussionist Musa Mboob, music and dance workshops, heritage talks, backstage tours and arts and crafts making. On the Concert Hall stage, there will be djembe drumming and West African dance, and historians Suchi Chatterjee and Bert Williams MBE will present the intriguing story of Three Kings visit Brighton in 1895, a short film and talk.
At Brighton Museum, theatre group Banyan Tree offer a unique singing experience with Real-I-Sing and the acclaimed literary organisation Writing Our Legacy will lead a creative writing workshop based around voices of protest. Meanwhile, there will be African and Caribbean food provided by Soul Food Sisters and Island Takeaway.
An Alternative Spotlight on Christmas
Music Beyond Mainstream and Brighton Dome are presenting a short online film to highlight alternative Christmas stories that will resonate with anyone who may feel isolated or disconnected from the festive season. I’ve seen the preview, and it’s compelling.
The film explores real-life narratives, accompanied by performances from leading musicians, singer-songwriters and performers in unusual locations. Using a kaleidoscopic approach, Artistic Director Laura Ducceschi, co-creator Patrick Eakin Young and filmmaker Samona Olanipekun cast real families, individuals and friends spending the festive period in ways that don’t necessarily conform to the traditional version of Christmas celebrations.
The stories are intertwined with reimagined versions of classic Christmas songs, together with new and original music, creating a familiar but contemporary take on seasonal soundscapes. Songwriter Duke Garwood and Mercury-nominated vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and producer ESKA perform a haunting interpretation of Silent Night set within the empty auditorium of Brighton Dome; while Irish musician, singer and actor Camille O’Sullivan delivers a spoken-word version of The Pogues’ Fairy Tale of New York. Further musical input comes from composer Douglas Dare, pianist Feargal Murray and cellist Oliver Coates.
ESKA explains, “This is sort of billed as a non-Christmassy film but actually it’s even more Christmassy as a result by trying to focus on the reality of it. Not everyone’s sleeping in heavenly peace right now, but we wish everyone a Merry Christmas and we wish heavenly peace on people whatever they’re going through.”
Artistic Director Laura Ducceschi added: “Despite the initial idea being rooted in rebellion, the project is driven and united by love, compassion, and thoughtfulness, rather than a sentimental version of how Christmas is portrayed commercially. We wanted to shine a light on those who don’t fit into traditional boxes and give them a connection. We always wanted to finish it with the sense of a hug.”
Another Christmas is free to watch on Music Beyond Mainstream’s YouTube channel from 8 pm, Thursday 16 December until Saturday 31 December.