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27 November 2014
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July, 2003
'Glastonbury with a dress code' - Henley Festival
Henley Festival 2003
Arriving by Henley Festival 2003
Victoria Roddam sampled the delightful cultural smorgasbord that is the Henley Festival of the Arts.
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Background:

For five days every July, just after the Henley Regatta, a riverside in the small Oxfordshire town of Henley overflows with artistic endeavour.

Review:

This was my first time at the Henley Festival, which was described by the organisers as 'a complete entertainment experience… a parallel universe where we can imagine with no holds barred'.

Artwork
Some of the amazing artwork at Henley Festival.

Well I indeed felt transported to another worldly realm on this beautiful July evening as we strolled through crowds of elegant, black-tied and cocktail-dressed champagne-sippers who mingled happily with gold-suited stilt-dancers and street theatre performers.

The Festival ran for five days from Wednesday 9 July to Sunday July 13, and culminated in a Family Fiesta and Concert on Sunday.

It offered festival-goers an opportunity not only to sample magnificent gala concerts, but also to participate in a hugely diverse mix of cultural experiences; painting, sculpture, music and theatre from artists young and old, fringe and mainstream.

Those who went along on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday enjoyed music from the Fine Young Cannibals, Lesley Garrett, Bryn Terfel, East of Ealing and Stacy Kent, and many more.

Henley Festival performers
Some of the festival performers.

There was comedy from Mel and Sue; and poetry from Sarah-Jane Arbury, Marcus Moore and Jude Simpson.

Arriving on the Saturday evening, I was instantly struck by the atmosphere of the event: a kind of 'Glastonbury with a dress code'.

We took everything in at a leisurely pace, finding ourselves by the resident performers 'Mischief La-Bas' and the street theatre group dotComed and proceeded to be hypnotised by the sassy beats and faultless poetry of Philip Wells and the tabla player Sirishkumar.

We then boogied to the rhythms of world musicians Angata, and enjoyed the gypsy fiddle music of Zum.

Sir Tim Rice
Sir Tim Rice performing live during the gala tribute to his work.

From there we drank in visual arts from sculpture to watercolour landscapes; and, of course, we gazed enviously at the diners in the Albert Roux pavilion.

The climax of the evening for me was the musical extravaganza on the Floating Stage.

Compered deftly and self deprecatingly by the great lyricist himself, who arrived 'hotfoot' from Lords in a London taxi, he regaled us with some of his greatest hits, including numbers from 'Joseph' and 'Jesus Christ Superstar',accompanied by the City of London Philharmonic.

With the words of 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' echoing in our ears, we later marvelled at the amazing 'Hydro-pyro-mania' water and fireworks display before drumming our feet to the Beating Retreat of the Coldstream Guards (which was also much enjoyed by a certain Mr Titchmarsh, sitting right behind me).

Performer at Henley Festival
Musician and comedian, Rainier Hersch entertains the crowds.

Exhausted, but happy, we finally left the festival in the early hours, leaving the champagne-fuelled revellers in full-swing, and determined to return next year.

Henley Festival of the Arts runs for five days in July annually. Advance booking is essential.


By Victoria Roddam


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