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26th February 2024

Live at The Fête of Britain review: A humorous address of the modern world

Uniting art, comedy, politics and activism, Live at The Fête of Britain provoked an important discussion about the most pressing issues of our time
Live at The Fête of Britain review: A humorous address of the modern world
Photo: Jacob Robinson @ The Mancunion

If you’re anything like me, humour is a good coping mechanism for navigating the complex landscape of politics today. Therefore, Live at The Fête of Britain was a perfect fit, forming part of Factory International’s four-day-long festival of the same name – a provocative night of comedy and talk exploring the nightmare that is the modern world. Curated in collaboration with Hard Art, the festival was a mix of play, workshops, people’s assemblies, talks, and performances.

Discussing issues like climate change and the cost of living crisis can be incredibly difficult, especially because of their pressing severity on a ground level. However, the festival took a proactive approach in creating a sense of togetherness in these events, which is crucial in taking an active stance towards a better future.

What makes Aviva Studios unique is the venue’s versatility. In October last year, I was able to see Danny Boyle’s fantastically futuristic show Free Your Mind. Yet, it was strange to see The Warehouse (one of two spaces used for Free Your Mind) in a completely different way. Campaign banners were hung from the ceiling, aptly setting the tone for a night about the intersection between art, politics, and activism. Kudos to the site’s creative team.

Stuart Goldsmith was compere for the evening. Goldsmith brands himself as a climate comedian and expertly balances the tone between comedy and current affairs – humorously acknowledging the hypocrisy of major polluters greenwashing, guilt about our own personal impact on the planet, and the nature of human complacency. The struggle of a compere is that the audience is often eager to move onto the next act, but Goldsmith was well assimilated into the mixed group of talent Live at The Fete of Britain showcased.

Investigative journalist Jon Ronson was first up. Drawing from his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and two seasons of his BBC podcast Things Fell Apart, Ronson discussed the conflicts which have pulled us apart as a society. I’ve always considered myself impressed by the breadth of Ronson’s work – how on earth can one man have covered so many stories?

Casually opening with an anecdote about how he lied to his son about the worst swear word in the world (apparently it’s “limone” – the Italian word for lemon – if you’re wondering), you could tell that the packed room of 800 was eagerly hanging on to his every word. It would be hard to find a reason to dislike Ronson, but it is that personable quality which makes him such a great interviewer.

He then moved on to what he called “stories of when activism goes bad.” Ronson’s story about racist pseudoscience, and the concept of excited delirium, seemed to be something of the past, the idea originating in 1980s Miami. But when Ronson revealed that this is what emerged as a key issue in the trial of officers over George Floyd’s death, the detrimental impact of such incorrect scientific assumptions became clear.

The story of Justine Sacco as the first victim of Twitter shaming was one I was previously aware of from his 2015 work So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed but I still found it as engaging as the first time I encountered it. Ronson probably could’ve read his weekly shop list and I would’ve been as interested as I was for all these stories.

He finished by discussing televangelism, and how Tammy Faye, a Christian chat show host, was able to destigmatise AIDS within the Christian community during the peak of misinformation about the disease in the 1980s. What I found most poignant was his take on how we should approach divisions within the sphere of activism: “What we crave most right now is not opposition but togetherness.”

Next up was Rosie Holt. If you haven’t seen Rosie Holt’s videos online, I’d recommend a quick trip to YouTube. Holt hits the nail on the head with her character of a disillusioned Conservative MP. It seems impossible for a twisted character to be so charming yet slimy – but not for Holt. Much can be said about how she skewers the political landscape and manages to highlight some of the most pressing issues of our time – the corruption of our current government and the broken democratic system. I’ve never seen someone rock a Conservative blue suit as much as she does.

In a last-minute change, Darran Griffiths replaced the originally scheduled Desiree Burch. It is insulting to describe his set as anything less than candid. Discussing stereotypes, masculinity and the journey of tackling infertility and IVF – there remained much anyone from any background could take from Griffiths’ personal experiences.

Fictional political correspondent Jonathan Pie (played by Tom Walker) rounded off the evening. What I found most astounding was his spotlight on the statistic that men aged 18-21 are the most politically apathetic group out of the British population.

I’m never a fan of generalisation, and as one of very few people under the age of 30 in the audience, felt slightly irritated that Pie branded our generation as one of political disengagement. Regardless, I still found that I could take a lot from what Pie was saying, particularly his take on the revolving door cycle of prime ministers in the last five years and his ranking of the many he has lived through.

The greatest loss of Pie’s set was the fact that the audience he was directing his lecture at was not the one present. Of course, if you’re going to attend a night of comedy and talk about the intersection of art and activism – you’re going to be somewhat politically engaged. But you can remain hopeful that his passion for improving the political system will spread to those who believe such issues don’t impact them.

With the ticking time bomb of a general election on the horizon, Live at The Fête of Britain underscored the importance of unity in effecting change, emphasising that collective action is essential in setting the wheels of change in motion.

Read more about The Fête of Britain in our latest article: Review: FACE TO FACE at the Fête of Britain

Jacob Robinson

Jacob Robinson

Head Investigations Editor & MMG News Producer 2023-24 | Former Head of Talk Shows and Deputy Head of Podcasting at Fuse FM 2022-23

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