Bonkersfest 2008 review


Camberwell Green, London. Saturday 19 July


Exuberance and innovation were on display yet again at the Bonkersfest in south London, says Mark Drinkwater

Despite its dodgy name, there’s something liberating about a festival that embraces difference and excluded people. This was the third annual festival celebrating madness and creativity organised by mental health arts charity Creative Routes.

Camberwell Green is also a fitting venue for the event being just a few hundred yards from both Camberwell College of Arts and the notorious Maudsley psychiatric hospital.

On entering the festival, audience members were invited to undergo the Bonkersfest Assessment in a process that perversely reversed the assumptions of conventional psychiatry by measuring levels of “normality” (mild, moderate or severe). Participants were then prescribed a treatment that involved interacting with various live arts sessions in a process of “de-normalisation”.

My prescription took me to Daniel Lehan’s modern day take on the now rarely seen sandwich board man. The Peckham artist had collected the strangest stories to be found in national newspapers and painstakingly painted them onto boards, with the invitation to “Stop Me and Read On!” Presented with such a collection of thought-provoking evidence, the default setting for this world might logically be considered “mad”.

Elsewhere at the festival, Bobby Baker’s performing peas kept popping up and bursting into song. Music was provided by Creative Routes’ own samba band Seção do loco, whose name translates, amusingly, as Crazy Section.

But for me, the festival highlight was the Choir with No Name – a singing group made up of homeless men and women. Though evidently not the best singers on stage that day, there was something joyous in seeing excluded people really letting go and belting out the latest pop songs. They had even learnt the words to Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” for the occasion.

Let’s hope the Bonkersfolk come back again next year, but with funding for the arts being diverted to the upcoming 2012 London Olympics, there seems to be ever-diminishing resources for innovative projects. Perhaps events like this can be available on prescription from the NHS?

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London

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