Arts fest kicks off Saturday


Free, family fun is the order of the day for the launch of the 45th annual Rye Arts Festival on Saturday  September 17. The usual Friday procession by the schools will therefore not happen this year but the organisers have arranged a number of musical and theatrical events for kids and adults which will take place around the centre of Rye from 11:30am to 4pm this Saturday.

Midget guitars, a mighty octopus, marching drummers, mellifluous jazz and a mustachioed walrus are all on the menu for Saturday and should get the town in the mood for a programme of over 60 ticketed events in a full fortnight to October 1.[Ten events have sold out, but some tickets are still available at the box office or on-line, and a few may be available at the door 30 minutes before the event, Editor]


The fun starts at 11:30am on Saturday (September 17) with The Octopot! Watch out as there is a huge octopus hidden a big cooking pot on the prowl around Rye. And when the pot comes to a rest, the octopus will pop out from its metal home to start an entertaining and interactive show that will be fun for all the family. And with additional performances at 1:00pm and 2:00pm don’t worry if you miss the first one.

As the church bells finish striking at 12 noon a jazz band will start playing in St Mary’s Church. Come in and listen to The Music Well Jazz Group play some calming grooves.

And having chilled, take a step outside the church at 1:30pm and you will hear the Drumskulls banging their drums outside the Kino cinema. They will lead off a parade, with the giant walrus and carpenter puppets, around Church Square. Everyone is welcome to join the parade which will end beside the Methodist Church next to the Gungarden. There, at 2pm, the puppeteers of Idolrich Theatre Company will perform the entertaining The Walrus & The Carpenter – a funny family show featuring two characters from Alice through the Looking Glass!

At 3pm the action is in the High Street as a select band of Rye ukulele masters strike up their mighty, midget guitars and provide an entertaining and very polished concert of classic songs from a wide range of musical genres. Their plucky playing is infectious and is guaranteed to raise a smile on even the most curmudgeonly people – including the Carpenter in the preceding and succeeding puppet show!

At 3:30pm the Drumskulls will start out on their second parade of the afternoon, from the Kino, around tChurch Square to Rye Methodist Church where the day’s second and final performance of the Walrus & the Carpenter is at 4:00pm.

The Wihan Quartet

And then the Festival kicks off in earnest! Whatever floats your artistic boat, Rye will have something to offer – music (contemporary and classical), book talks, historical and nature walks, professional theatre, film, art exhibitions and children’s events.

Take classical music. For the fifth time the fantastic young professional singers and musicians of Euphonia Company, who are at the start of their professional careers, are coming to Rye. And this year they are bringing two different operas. The Festival opens with the first on September 17. This is a new production by Euphonia of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw which is based on a ghost story written by the author Henry James after he moved to Rye, where he lived for many years until his death 100 years ago.

The Festival closes on October 1 with a joyous production of Don Pasquale, which wowed the London audience last November and gained great reviews for the fabulous young American soprano Lauren Libaw.

The Coal Porters
The Coal Porters

Continuing the international theme, the classical programme sees a welcome return of the Wihan Quartet – a London-based Czech string quartet with a global reputation for mastery of their national music. La Serenissima are British but they play 18th Century Italian baroque music to audiences around the world. And young Korean pianist Tzu-Yin Huang, winner of the 2016 Hastings International Piano competition, is jetting in especially from the USA!

Contemporary music takes us around the world too. The Coal Porters are a British-American band who play self-styled “alt bluegrass”. Yeehah! And the best of the Celtic fringe are coming too. And 9Bach, a hauntingly beautiful Welsh folk group, play on September 22. On Friday September 30 the folk musician, troubadour and multi-instrumentalist Rory McLeod, who has toured the globe for 40 years and soaked up influences on the way, will be joined by the Familiar Strangers to give a gig that shouldn’t be missed.

Literary talks are varied. Loyd Grossman no longer looks through the keyhole, but he does look at paintings and gives an insight into the great 18th history painter Benjamin West. And Henry Jeffreys argues that Britain gave the world booze! Be it claret or port, champagne or sherry Britons’ seemingly insatiable penchant for drink kick-started, grew and supported a global industry with us at its heart. Cheers!

General Wolfe by Henry West
General Wolfe by Benjamin West

The film programme marks the passing this year of David Bowie and Prince with screenings of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Purple Rain.

And theatre is represented by For All Time on September 19. The play is set one night in 1613 when William Shakespeare and John Fletcher (born in Rye) have until dawn to complete their collaboration on the play The Noble Kinsmen. The booze flows and artistic juices ebb and flow.  There is also a 10-person capacity theatre in a caravan parked outside the Kino offering two 15-minute plays on the opening Saturday ,September 17. It will be cosy and great fun.

These are just highlights of the 60-plus events between September 17 and October 1 in Rye – make sure you don’t miss one of the best arts festivals not just in East Sussex but in the whole of the country.

More information is available and tickets can be bought online by going to or telephone the Box Office (at Phillips & Stubbs, 47 Cinque Ports St, open Mon-Sat 930-1230) on 01797 224442 .

Photos: Rye Arts Festival

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