The 2021 festival in retrospective

As the country emerged from the pandemic, the Festival of Chichester returned with a bang.

A month-long programme of exciting events – live, virtual and outdoors – ran from 12th June to 11th July.

There was a fantastic choice of entertainment, ranging from classical concerts to rock gigs to book talks with famous authors, comedy, theatre, exhibitions, live-streaming shows, walks and tours and much more, with an eye-catching return to Chichester of the star of much-loved TV sitcoms The Good Life and To the Manor Born, Dame Penelope Keith.

Festival co-ordinator Barry Smith said, ‘It’s been really exciting to be putting on live events again in the city. We’ve been delighted that although we’ve been following the rules and regulations to keep people safe from Covid, we’ve still managed to notch up some socially distanced, sell-out performances. Performers are telling us how much they’ve appreciated the chance to have contact with a real live audience while audiences are thrilled to enjoy live events once again after such a long lay-off. It’s been challenging, but worthwhile, to see things getting back to something like a proper festival. Next year, we hope to be able to go one better!’

The line-up included top-notch classical concerts with Ensemble Reza performing Tchaikovsky, the Castalian Quartet performing Brahms and the Bach Players with the joyous Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, all at the Assembly Room. At the Cathedral, we welcomed international pianists Young-Choon Park performing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Elena Toponogova performing Russian Romantic music.

Other festival music delights included the toe-tapping Cuban band, the Latin Bridge, in an open-air gig at Halnaker, Olivia Stevens with jazzy blues at the Waverley and the engaging Charlotte Glasson Jazz Trio at the Poetry & Jazz Café. New this year was a concert series presented by the University of Chichester and the debut of the Stradivarius Piano Trio.

Spoken word featured Dame Penelope Keith and South Downs writers in a programme of Poetry and Music at the Cathedral commemorating the bicentenary of John Keats, and a book launch by top local author Kate Mosse. Theatre events included the Rude Mechanicals performing a take on the early life of Charlie Chaplin at Halnaker Park Cottage grounds, a virtual Summer Feel Good Show from CAOS, the Chichester based musical group, and a touring production of a popular Pride and Prejudice spin-off, Lydia and George.

There were lots of stimulating art exhibitions including Chichester Art Society’s Oxmarket show, an Open Studios art trail, Catherine Barnes’ popular Pictures in the Porch and a moving exhibition of multi-layered, textured artworks by Michèle Griffiths at the Cathedral, Darkness into Light. The city itself took centre stage for illuminating guided tours.

And, of course, there were many quirky, unexpected events such as Retro Bingo with Dawn Gracie, a Sussex wine talk and taster at New Park Community Centre and a Bumblebee workshop! New this year was the Chichester Free Fringe, providing a platform for comedy, music, theatre, dance, music hall, poetry, puppetry and more, giving talented artists a unique opportunity to showcase their newly created performances.

All in all, we’ve had a great summer of entertainment as the Festival returned to bring back the joy of live performance. 

Image: Charlotte Glasson Trio with guitarist Chris Spedding. Image credit Jan Davies