Sziget Festival 2022: the weirdest and most wonderful moments on the festival’s fringes

At the Budapest festival there's delightfully bizarre and daring activities and installations at every turn

To all outward appearances, Nicolas Cage appears to have taken on his strangest role yet. Having grown an impressive handlebar moustache and donned tight blue swimming trunks (the wrong way round; cue much immodest trunk wrestling), he’s silently miming a synchronised swimming routine in a tiny child’s paddling pool in the corner of the Sziget theatre field, alongside what looks like his dad. And the shortage of actual water available to synchronise-swim in doesn’t seem to be putting them off.

Of course, it’s quite possible that the Island Of Freedom has addled our senses already. Far more than just the music – although with Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, Justin Bieber, Dua Lipa and Kings Of Leon heading the line-up, that’s nothing to be sniffed at – the island’s woodland nooks and grottoes hold all manner of strange and magical experiences for the mind, body, soul and feet. The theatre field alone is an ever-shifting blower of minds.

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Wander through mid-afternoon and you might chance upon the fake Nicolas Cage face down in half an inch of swimming pool, or stumble across the Living Statue Championships, where an array of Charlie Chaplins, Popeyes and Amazonians battle it out to see who can do nothing at all for the longest. By night the field comes alive: on Thursday night a troupe of masked maniacs recreate a Tunisian revolution in interpretative dance, tearing apart a cloth cube full of nightmarish projections while a hooded figure conducts basement surgery on a gurney nearby. No wonder a huge illuminated inflatable hand, drifting in the wind, occasionally seems to flip the bird to the normality of the mainland.

Elsewhere, there are acrobatics aplenty. In the Cirque De Sziget circus tent, a fearless crew of clownish decorators called Cirque La Compagnie tightrope-walk along the crowd barriers, fling themselves high into the air from seesaws and make death-defying leaps from towering platforms. In the Global Village – home to the Vietnam National Water Puppet Theatre and Japanese dub ska bands – Togo group Afuma perform high-latitude stilt-walking escapades. And across the site by a Hollywood-style Sziget sign, a troupe of glam-suited acrobats are lifted hundreds of feet into the sky atop a Perspex corridor nightly, swinging on wires across its surfaces both vertically and horizontally like ABBA recreating the opening scene of Gravity.

Many of the dance and theatre performances carry a pressing contemporary theme – identity, discrimination, love and warfare. Topics reflected in the panel discussions and awareness events dotted around the site. Films and talks at the Tent Without Borders naturally focus on the Ukraine war and subsequent refugee crisis, while the LGBTQ+-oriented Magic Mirror stage hosts panels on gender acceptance before transforming into a late-night gay disco featuring fabulous power pop stage-strutters such as Leopold. At XSland visitors can even experiences an ‘interactive adventure park’ from the perspective of the disabled, tapping their way blindfold around a wooden maze, taking a wheelchair obstacle course or painting with their mouths or feet. It’s certainly more fun than the Rubik’s Cube stand at the Gameland Hub, where some evil genius left a cube with one too many yellow squares on.

Talking of jokers, around sunset the Magic Mirror stage also acts as a comedy arena where, on Sunday, the UK’s Liam Mullone explains why jellyfish have spent the past 500 million years too stoned or lazy to evolve, and Ireland’s Peter Flanagan reveals that the Catholic Church in Ireland now have an app which can connect you instantly to a priest – “it’s called Grinder”.

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At the calmer end of the island, past the Samsung dance arena – essentially a Colosseum built from wooden pallets – the Artzone allows you to get a selfie inside a metal sun sculpture and, considering the drum circle a little over-done, play percussion from inside a drumming cube. And at the Island’s very own beach, revellers gather to have their chakras turned off and on again by soothing hand pan tones at the Chill Garden or to clear their psychic blockages at a blindfolded meditation party.

Most evenings end, though, at the Tribute Stage, where a stream of covers bands pay homage to Queen, ABBA, The Stones and AC/DC. Not always entirely convincingly – Sziget’s Nirvana have four members for a start and, judging by their sludgey pace through ‘On A Plain’ and ‘Heart Shaped Box’, would make a more convincing Pearl Spam. But it’s all part and parcel of a head-spinning six-day ride where every woodland path leads to a strange new world.

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