The 48th annual Rye Arts Festival is about to start in a week’s time with a packed programme of world-class events from September 14 to 28, making the town the Arts Capital of the South East.
All these events, encompassing literary talks, classical music, folk and world music, drama and films, means that a variety of venues are required. In this respect, Rye is blessed with lots of choice. And, like the England & Wales Cricket Board preparing for the Ashes test series, the Rye Arts Festival selects venues around the area.
The Festival was started 48 years ago with just a weekend of concerts at St Mary’s church and to this day, like Lords with cricket, St Mary’s remains the heart of the Festival. A large and flexible capacity (side aisles can be used), a central position in Rye and oozing history, St Mary’s is the home of most of the classical music programme.
The “world’s best baritone”, according to Classic FM, Roderick Williams will be singing songs by Schubert on Friday September 27, with his voice in complete harmony with the pitch-perfect acoustics.
If Lords is HQ then the Oval is the people’s test cricket ground, and here we have Rye Community Centre on Conduit Hill fulfilling this role. Home to almost all the contemporary (folk, blues and world) music as well as the drama programme with a maximum capacity of 165, and a proper raised stage giving excellent sight lines, the well-lived-in venue is much loved by the bands who get up close and personal with the crowd. Come and check out the wonderful, driving African sounds of Mampama on Saturday September 28, and the wonderful play “A Regular Little Houdini” on Thursday September 26.
Travel up north and the biggest Test cricket venue is Old Trafford. In Rye, this becomes The Milligan Theatre at Rye College. Large capacity, recently refurbished, with a bank of bleachers for great viewing, and a big stage, it is a natural place to see and hear the 24-piece National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) on Sunday September 15 – your chance to see the stars of the future who are still at school!
Back south and Rye Methodist Church is like the Rose Bowl in Southampton – light, bright, comfortable seats and relatively new – although a great place to see book talks rather than the England cricket team.
Come and see Kate Bradbury, who appeared on BBC SpringWatch on who will be talking about “Wildlife Gardening For Everyone” on September 28.
Other venues almost select themselves by their relevance to the event.
Webbe’s Fish Café will be used for the first time by the Festival for a talk and practical demonstration of “Botanical Baking” by Juliet Sear on Sunday September 21. Juliet is a regular TV baking expert, and this is your chance to have your cake and to eat it!
The Kino is the natural home for the film programme – where else? This year’s screenings include “Midnight Cowboy”, marking the 50th anniversary of its release and its ground-breaking importance as the first 18+ film to win the Best Film Oscar, as well as the first overtly LGBT-themed film to do so.
Rye Art Gallery is a shoo-in for talks about art and on September 18 the renowned portrait painter Fiona Graham-Mackay will be talking, with a fortnight-long exhibition of her wonderful works on display too. Don’t miss a master of the art and her work.
The historic Mermaid’s Tudor Room is an ideal setting for venerable local thespians The Rye Players with their reprisal of the classic “Shakespeare in Rye” on Sunday September 29, since recent research suggests there is a very high chance that the Bard played in the venue back in the day.
The Mermaid is also a shoo-in for the lunch in the middle of the inaugural cRYmE Day on Saturday September 14, especially when there’s the chance to sample an absolute killer murder-themed menu! Four crime writers will be speaking throughout the day.
The new Bridge Point former warehouse complex is showing its versatility, providing a two-week long retrospective exhibition of the venerable local artist Fred Cuming RA, focusing on his seascapes, small birdlife paintings and sketches for a portrait of Stephen Hawking. And on Saturday September 28 choreographer Lynne Page is holding a free mass dance event for all themed on the Battle of Hastings! But why not come along with your kids and throw some shapes and dad dance your socks off?
Years ago, the England Cricket Board moved its test schedule to venues outside the traditional area, with matches in Cardiff and Durham. Similarly, Rye Arts Festival likes to put on events in surrounding villages.
Rye Harbour Sailing Club is a natural place for William Thomson, who will be talking about “Seas the Power” – a practical and highly entertaining talk about tides and what drives them, on Sunday September 22. An engaging talker with an infectious love of his subject this talk is for everyone.
And this year (like last) the Festival will have two concerts in Winchelsea church, where the acoustics are sublime, and the lines of sight are excellent.
Tickets and more information on all the 50 plus world class events including folk, world and classical music, as well as theatre, films, book talks and much more, are available online.
Image Credits: R.A.F. .