Bury St Edmunds Festival preview

Adam GrettonFestival organisers are hoping to temporarily lift the gloom surrounding the recession with an exciting programme of events ranging from the classical to the cheesy. Adam Gretton previews the 24th Bury St Edmunds Festival.Adam Gretton

It's a scene that creates images of 1950s America and the musical Grease, in which high school student Danny attempts to rekindle a holiday romance with Sandy by taking her to a drive-in movie.

A Suffolk arts festival is hoping to prompt a mini revival of the American tradition this spring by staging two outdoor screenings at a nearby airfield as part of a diverse programme of events.

Organisers of the annual Bury St Edmunds Festival spoke of their delight after putting together another eclectic mix of contemporary and classical music, concerts, theatre, opera, poetry, comedy, talks, walks, and street theatre, despite the country being in the grip of a recession.

And officials have their fingers crossed that the 17-day festival in May will still draw thousands of visitors.

Nick Wells, festival manager, said the latest programme, which had been hit by a drop in sponsorship, still maintained its classic roots while welcoming back some festival favourites, acclaimed performers and some completely new events.

The 2009 festival will for the first time feature two drive-in movies at Rougham airfield with screenings of Dirty Dancing on May 8 and Mamma Mia on May 9.

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Mr Wells said it was 'fantastic' to revive an American tradition, which was popular with families and courting couples during the 1950s and 60s.

A multi-media children's show and poetry fused with music and film are other new listings.

'It is a bit hairy out there at the moment, but there is lots of evidence that more people go to arts and entertainment events during a recession to lift the mood and get away from the bad news on the TV. I am hoping that is what is going to happen this year,' said Mr Wells.

'Tickets are not cheap, but compared to other events in the country, we are very good value for money. We have our fingers crossed that people will be choosing to do something locally rather than going to London. The festival is an important part of the town's cultural life and, as ever, there is a huge range of things to enjoy this year.'

The 24th Bury St Edmunds Festival will open on Friday, May 8, with the traditional beating the retreat ceremony on Angel Hill, which will be performed by the Band of the Royal Parachute Regiment. Aerial performers from Swamp Circus will also be dangling from a 10m high rig and there will be street theatre on May 9.

The festival will culminate in a 1970s and 80s party night in Abbey Gardens on May 22; folk music from Slovenian band Terrafolk with Celtic trancers Peatbog Faeries on May 23; and a classical proms and firework finale on Sunday, May 24, featuring soprano Rebecca Bottone and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

In between, there will be gala cathedral concerts from the Philharmonia Orchestra, which will perform Britten's Fanfare for St Edmundsbury with a world premiere from conductor Benjamin Wallfisch on May 11, and the 2008 national brass band champions, Black Dyke Band, on May 16.

There will be Cuban salsa grooves from Vocal Sampling on May 21; hot jazz from Grammy nominated Stacey Kent on May 10; and gipsy rhythms from Zum on May 12.

Mr Wells said he was also looking forward to some interesting and surprising fusions with cellist Matthew Sharp performing Jonny's Midnight Goggles on May 20 and the poetry of Wendy Cope being set to music by the Endellion Quartet and Roxanna Panufnik on May 17.

Mr Wells added that a popular series of outdoor concerts had also been refreshed with new bands and themes, with a chance for local talent to shine. This year, the festival's youth and community programme will give young people the opportunity to compose with Indian musicians and sing alongside one of the country's finest choral groups, he said.

Lynsey Alexander, portfolio holder for arts and culture at St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which runs the festival, said: 'St Edmundsbury Borough Council is committed to quality and excellence in the arts and our continued support enables the festival to remain an important part of the town's cultural life. Once again there is an impressive range of events to enjoy and we look forward to seeing you at many of them this May.'

t The full programme of events is available at www.buryfestival.co.uk and the Theatre Royal box office at www.theatreroyal.org, or call 01284 769505.