Best ever festival

Scotland’s largest rural performing arts festival has enjoyed its best year ever.

Organisers for the 2016 Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival say that early indications show a 49 per cent rise in ticket sales from the Midsteeple Box Office over 2015.

And word of the festival has spread, according to ticket sales, as audiences outside the region increased by over 250 per cent over a two-year period.

Festival programme director Peter Renwick said: “We are absolutely delighted with the figures so far for this year’s festival.

“These sharp rises in ticket sales go towards proving we are delivering the kind of events people want to see.

“Many shows completely sold out and there were full houses at events in theatre, dance, music and the spoken word across Dumfries and Galloway.

“Ninety three per cent of our audiences reported having enjoyed the performances and 89 per cent said they were highly likely to return next year.

“This year we also continued to present the west of the region with quality performances in a wide range of venues. A two year increase in ticket sales by 227 per cent in the DG8 area and 275 per cent in the DG9 area is testament to the excellent relationship we have developed with audiences and promoters in the west of the region.”

This year, the 37th festival, which took place over 10 days at the end of May, delivered its biggest and most successful event to date with 85 shows in 48 venues.

The festival began on Friday, 20 May, with a magnificent opera at the Easterbrook Hall. Over 200 people attended and the event set the bar for the quality of events to follow over the next nine days.

One of the major highlights of the festival’s core programme was a four-day residency of Scotland’s only string orchestra, The Scottish Ensemble.

They played classics from the golden age of dance hall in a sell-out tea dance at the Usual Place, Dumfries, before travelling to Newton Stewart to play alongside Stranraer’s Scots trad singing sensation Robyn Staptleton.

Dumfries audiences were then treated to the full orchestra’s performance of En Reve at the Theatre Royal, Dumfries, where a civic reception was held.

Particular shows of note were the sell-out performances by Songs of Separation and the Cairn Chorus at the Usual Place, Dumfries; and Scottish Opera’s pop-up opera truck tour of the region proved so popular that many of the shows sold out days before the events.

One of the liveliest concerts of the festival took place on its penultimate night when Orkestra del Sol took to the stage of the Usual Place, Dumfries, supported by the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band and dance theatre troupe Oceanallover.

Other shows that completely sold out were Eddi Reader’s two concerts in Sanquhar and Langholm; Lady Maisery at Loch Arthur, Beeswing; and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Castle Douglas.

There were full houses with Samson Sounds in Thornhill; Dave Dewar’s The Banker Who Cared in Ruthwell and New Galloway; the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band in Wigtown; and Dallahan in Colvend Public Hall.

Audiences also enjoyed the groundbreaking theatre productions at this year’s festival. Ventoux and the Litvinenko Project completely sold out as did Black is the Color of My Voice at the Theatre Royal.

On the final Saturday, and in glorious sunshine, the festival took to the Plainstanes where a select few of the quality acts showcased the diversity and musical excellence of what the festival has offered this year.

The Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band, Robyn Stapleton, Jamie McClennan, Elia Davidson, Kate Kyle, Scottish Ensemble and their young musicians performed al fresco to the delight of High Street shoppers.

For the very young, there was fabulous puppetry with Land of the Dragon in Wigtown and Dumfries and magical dance workshops with the Scottish Dance Theatre in New Galloway.

Thanks to generous funding, the arts festival team can now deliver performing arts across the region year round.

The brand new touring programme, Dumfries and Galloway Arts Live, kicked-off on 7 June with a tour by the National Theatre of Scotland’s celebrated play, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, in Newton Stewart, Lockerbie and Sanquhar.

These events heralded the beginning of a rich and diverse programme of performances taking place across Dumfries and Galloway during the forthcoming year.

Closely following was Ishbel McFarlane’s O is for Hoolet which sold out at Tynron Village Hall on Friday before enjoying a successful turn-out at the Swallow Theatre, Whithorn.

In July, the National Theatre of Scotland returns to the region with the Last Dream (On Earth) at Dumfries and Stranraer; Macmath: The Silent Page comes to Glentrool Village Hall and Ludens Ensemble’s Macbeth Without Words will play out at the Theatre Royal, Dumfries, in August.

October will see Fire Exit perform the Course of True Love in Langholm, New Galloway and Moniaive; Rapture Theatre’s Democracy in Stranraer and Dumfries; and Jango Starr’s One Man Shoe in Boreland and Whithorn.

Further information from www.dgartslive.org.uk