‘Faversham has a unique relaxing cultural atmosphere,’ says Faversham resident Rosie Turner, the ebullient director of the Canterbury Festival, to be held this year from 20 October – 3 November.
Rosie, who originally hails from Derry in Northern Ireland, is passionate about the annual two-week festival which generates an astonishing £3.5million to the city. And, indeed, she is passionate about cultural festivals in general. This year marks her 38th consecutive year of involvement with a cultural festival.
Director of the Festival since 2003, Rosie has achieved an enormous amount in the last 15 years, doubling the turnover, the staff and even successfully fundraising to buy the Festival’s very own office in Orange Street, a stone’s throw from the Marlowe Theatre.
Rosie is an inspired choice of director. An ardent devotee of drama from an early age, she began volunteering at the annual Belfast Festival in 1981. After studying drama at Aberystwyth University, she lectured on drama for 11 years in Belfast before joining the staff of the Belfast Festival in 1992, rising to Deputy Director. What a job that was, set against a backdrop of the Troubles.
‘No-one wanted to go out in their car after dark. The festival was a cultural beacon in very dark times.’ It proved to be a brilliant experience, running PR and fundraising against a backdrop of bullet and bomb.
Arriving in the sedate cathedral city of Canterbury must have been astonishing. ‘I fell in love with the city and have never been happier.’
‘Kent’s International Arts Festival,’ is the strapline Rosie dreamed up early on in her tenure. Since the advent of the high-speed rail, Canterbury is increasingly ‘vibrant and international.’ Rosie proudly states that the catchment area is ‘London to Margate and abroad.’ For example, this year 80 members of a Dutch orchestra have already signed up to attend events with a view to performing next year.
Flicking through this year’s programme it is immediately obvious that the festival has a varied programme with much to offer every age group – from Bryn Terfel to Sophie Ellis-Bextor to Evelyn Glennie.
‘We have a very strong family programme over half term, with imaginative events such as the wonderfully named Ensonglopedia of Animals – an animal song for each letter of the alphabet, ‘suitable for ages 5-105!’ Or Baby Loves Disco. The programme of lectures this year includes talks by Ptolemy Dean, Surveyor of the Fabric of Westminster Cathedral, who is giving the Kent College Lecture, David Starkey talking on Henry VIII: The First Brexiteer? and Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger talking about his company’s purchase of land near Chilham to grow champagne grapes.
For those making a special expedition to Canterbury to attend events, the Festival’s programme is planned so that one can sign up for numerous happenings on the same day from musical performances to cultural walks such as Strangers in Canterbury – Walloons, Flemings and Huguenots sought sanctuary in Tudor and Stuart Canterbury. Or one can explore the 36 different river bridges in the city in the walk entitled The River Bridges, Waterways and Mills of Canterbury.
A non-profit making charity, the Festival, like many other British cultural events, is feeling the impact of Arts Council cuts. Seemingly undaunted, Rosie is sailing on, retaining the Spiegeltent which at one point she thought would have to be sacrificed. First introduced in 2013, this quirky informal venue hosts the funkier performances such as the Brit Soul band Mamas Gun. Of course, the Cathedral plays a central role as a magnificent venue.
The Festival dates from the 1920s, one of the very first in the country. In those far- off days, music and plays were specially commissioned from luminaries including Vaughan Williams, Dorothy L Sayers and T S Eliot. Murder in the Cathedral is the legacy of that period. WWII put a stop to the festival and it fell into abeyance, only to be heroically rescued by Peter Williams and Kent Opera in 1984.
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Text: Amicia. Photographs: Canterbury Festival.