Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival 2023 A Success

Scotland’s largest rural performing arts festival came back with a bang this year, with an immersive Gallovidian time travelling extravaganza, Pop Up Opera and giant Wild Cat Puppetry and more that visited venues right across Dumfries & Galloway.

The Festival celebrated stories of communities at the heart of the region as well as bringing national artists into community spaces and performing arts venues. With audiences attending in higher numbers than ever before with a 24% increase on audience attendance compared to 2022, the team are excited to begin planning their 45th anniversary event in 2024 and start a new journey of development within Dumfries & Galloway.

The Festival programme kicked off with Gaither A’Thegether at Castle Douglas Town Hall, a homecoming for a line-up of Gallovidian time travelling acts that included An Dannsa Dub, Flew the Arrow, Susi Briggs, Simon Lidwell, Roodboy & Vixen, Cronyx, Jen Mac and hosted by BBC Introducing presenter Phoebe I.H.

A sell out success, this opening night for the Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival set the tone for a dynamic and vibrant ten days of events. The immersive community project also supported a group of young people during the day to create their own sound system and gave them a space to explore their passion for music.

On Sunday 21st May, the team took over Crawick Multiverse, a land art installation in Upper Nithsdale with Ludic Acid, a high paced acrobatic puppetry and physical theatre show that had the kids engrossed in a chase between the ancient mythical highland spirit and Sammy, cat catcher extraordinaire.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Oceanallover performed its show Scales of the World in a pop up performance on Kirkcudbright High Street. The piece, invited audiences into an altered reality of unique costume, visceral dance, visual poetry and powerful music.

On Sunday night, both Wee Mousie Theatre Company and Birchvale Young Players took over Birchvale Theatre in Dalbeattie with two performances in which they created a show from scratch with support from the Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival and a host of industry professionals. The shows centred around the theme of ‘A Climate for Change’ and the near sell out night, was a roaring celebration of the young talent in our region.

Monday saw the first performance from the world famous A Play A Pie and A Pint with their new show written by Grant O’Rourke and directed by Jo Freer Leopards Ate My Face; a family comedy about the dangers of letting your paranoia take control. The show toured the region over 6 days at the Theatre Royal Dumfries, the Stranraer Millennium Centre and Old Well Theatre in Moffat and was a runaway success.

Throughout the Festival, the team have been able to support many local businesses including local food producers bringing people together through food as well as cultural events.

John Bolland presented Pibroch at Moffat Town Hall and the CatStrand with insightful and wide ranging Q&A session after each show. The production used spoken word, live music and striking visual imagery to represent the personal and social experiences of the survivors of the Piper Alpha Disaster and relationship to the challenges each of us face in rapidly a warming world.

The JKL Duo comprising of Jacopo Lazzaretti and Kerry Lynch headed to Eskdalemuir Community Hub on Tuesday night, playing music straight from the heart and enthralling the audience using the flute and classical guitar to speak to present their innovative debut album “The International Poet” a take on the work of our local bard, Rabbie Burns, with arrangements of his songs from leading composers from around the world.

Hebridean Treasure wowed audiences at The CatStrand on Wednesday with its captivating blend of song, dance and storytelling using Scottish and South Asian music to conjure up the ancient landscapes of the Scottish Isles and the ways in which Gaelic verse and song connects deeply with the rhythms of nature. The piece focused on a message of hope and a new way of life that cherishes our Celtic cultural heritage.

SHELF Comedy presented HAIR, their Fringe success show at the Theatre Royal on Wednesday and had audiences laughing out loud and was described as “queer comedy at its absolute best.” Audiences felt that it was poignant, powerful and funny and struck significant chords, by bringing gender non-binary experiences to life.

On Thursday 25th May, The Stove platformed three local poets to present their spoken word performance, Landscape with Figures. Inspired by marginal lands and the figures that animate them, their performance brought together published work with new writing in a seamless, illustrated production.

Heading West again, the team sold out another incredible night of music with chart topping band Talisk to the Stranraer Millennium Centre along with local sensations The Lucky Doves and Rose Byers. Talisk rocked the night with their ground-breaking folk sounds and their truly innovative signature style.  A local success story, The Lucky Doves’ music keeps on giving and the group enchanted audiences with their fantastic folk/Americana/rock style. Rose Byers who the Arts Festival have supported from a young age at only 17, opened the show with her incredible vocals and was delighted to play on a line-up of her favourite bands.

Scottish Opera was back touring the region again this year so audiences could experience opera on a miniature scale in their communities with versions of Die Fledermaus and Eugene Onegin. The public performances took place at the newly refurbished A’the Airts in Sanquhar and Glencairn Institute at Moniaive. Throughout the week, Scottish Opera also completed a residency with local Calside, Beattock, Kelloholm and Sanquhar Primary Schools and Briery Park Care Home, providing great opportunities for people of all ages in these local communities to enjoy and appreciate live music.

Patricia Ace and local Chelsie Nash hosted a Spoken Word evening at The Stove on Saturday 26th May. Patricia’s work casts unflinching eye and imagination over the world she encounters, talking about the lived female experience and her witty and knowledgeable work is insightful and intriguing. Performing alongside Patricia was local star, Chelsie Nash, who recently won the South Heat of the Loud Poets Slam competition. Her dark, comedic poetry perfectly complemented Patricia’s work and brought further life to the evening.

To close this year’s Festival, was Scotland’s favourite Kilty Pleasure Craig Hill, performed his eagerly-awaited hilarious new stand up show at Easterbrook Hall. Craig’s tours are firmly established as one of the best night’s entertainment around and this night did not disappoint, with audiences laughing out loud all evening.

Simon Hart, CEO of the Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival, stated:
“It’s been a privilege, as well as great fun, to work as artistic director on my first Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival. In every venue I have visited across the region – from Eskdalemuir in the north-east, to Stranraer in the south-west and many points in between – I have been inspired by the dedication and commitment of the promoters and venues we work with, the enthusiasm and engagement of the audiences and participants we serve, as well as the creativity and hard work of the artists we present. Despite the lingering effects of Covid and the ongoing economic crisis, we are pleased and proud to have provided such a vibrant and successful festival in 2023 for communities throughout Dumfries & Galloway.”

The Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival brought world-class theatre, music, dance, comedy and spoken word performances to every corner of the region over their Festival, bringing communities together to share in their “immersive” and “epic” events.

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