Feature: Street life

The Durham Streets Of Summer Festival starts tomorrow
The Durham Streets Of Summer Festival starts tomorrow
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GIANT kangaroos on stilts, racing watermelons and ... suspenders? The Durham Streets Of Summer Festival might be five years old, but it’s not growing up anytime soon.

Kicking off tomorrow night with a screening of cult classic The Rocky Horror Show, the festival has been condensed into 24 hours of music and madness.

Festival organiser Kate James can’t wait.

Kate, 40, said: “The beauty of this festival is that it covers pushchair to pensioner. There really is something for everybody.

“I love the buzz and the atmosphere of the festival – it’s like a family. It’s such a lovely day with everyone pitching in and enjoying themselves.

“This year we’re trying to create a festival that’s a real destination event. You get in there, enjoy yourself for 24 hours and when it’s gone it’s gone.

“For The Rocky Horror Show we’re encouraging everyone to get dressed up in, there’ll be entertainers outside who’ll also go into the cinema and we’ll be handing out goody bags full of props.”

But don’t worry if you’re not the suspenders and Time Warp type – there’ll be plenty more going on.

Cooky street theatre and circus acts to mention but a few.

Tamara Campbell will be performing at the festival for the first time with her romantic slapstick routine, The Shirley Sunflower Show, on Saturday.

“The show is about me looking for a husband so I choose a guy and do the leap of love which represents my trip down the aisle and going to my husband,” she said. “The whole thing is completely ridiculous and I leap into the bucket of water and come out the other side wearing a wedding dress.”

Tamara lives near Sydney with her husband, also a street performer, and two children. This weekend will be her first trip to Durham.

She said: “We travel every year with the children and they both did their first European tours when they were six weeks old. It’s really difficult at times and sometimes it’s great.

“I like the fact that they’re interested in different cultures and languages and they love watching different shows and acts.”

Far-flung performers like Tamara will be joined by plenty of home-grown talent too. Young folk duo Marit Falk and Rona Wilkie, from Newcastle, will be taking on the Walkergate Stage, while Durham graduate Julius Petri will be performing the German Wheel – a spectacular gymnastic display.

For Kate James, the blend is the festival’s strong point.

“We have award-winning international performers mixed up with local talents who are just starting to perform at festivals,” she said. “We hope that in a few years they’ll be coming back to headline for us.

“It stands and falls on the strength of the performers because there’s so little infrastructure. We’re known for looking after our performers and it always pays off because they never let us down.”

This year the festival will have two main performance areas and some extra events in different locations. The Rocky Horror Show will be screened at the Gala Theatre, music acts will be on the Walkergate Stage, in Millennium Place, and the street performers and circus acts will be at the Carillion Stage in Durham’s Market Place.

The headline music act will be Transglobal Underground, known for their eclectic mix of house, dance, and world beat music.

Kate said: “The Peatbog Faeries, who played last year, were always going to be a really hard act to follow so we’re really pleased we’ve got Transglobal Underground. They’re a real coup for us.

“Then we’ve got the brilliant Po’Girl and Peter Tickell returning with his new project. I think it’s the best line-up we’ve ever had.

“The Market Place is going to have three performance pitches so that’ll be great.

“We’re finishing with a really, really lovely event – an intimate gig down at Crook Hall and Gardens. It’ll be a picnic in the park feel where people can bring food and a rug and see Bottle Bank Band, Andy May and Benny Graham.”

The festival is organised by Visit County Durham’s festival team on behalf of Durham Council.

Folk singer and performer Katie Doherty, 28, has been involved for the past three years. This year she has organised the programme for the Walkergate Stage.

She said: “We’re able to bring in acts that you would never normally get to see for free. In the last few years it’s grown hugely and now people can come and experience really high-quality street theatre.

“Durham is a very lovely city anyway and in terms of culture there’s a great folk music scene so we’re just building on that.

“It’s a beautiful city with lots of attractions but there’s also a really young, trendy scene and the students so the festival needs to cater to different tastes.”

This year Katie will be in the audience instead of on stage.

She said: “No stage fright for me this year – I’ll be letting everyone else get nervous!

“I’m really looking forward to seeing Peter Tickell, the fiddler from the Peatbog Faeries as he’s working on some new music where he’s going down the rock route. I can’t wait to see it.”

Steve Cousins, managing partner of Let’s Circus, has been organising the Market Place performers.

A contemporary clown by profession, the 32-year-old says there’ll be plenty to liven up the day.

“We have a really great, diverse, international programme of quite a lot of circus art forms and street entertainment,” he said.

“There’ll be juggling, tightrope walking, acrobatics, jester character work and clowning all put together in very different forms.

“The street setting is a great way to interact with the public and bring something extraordinary to the ordinary. It makes performance more accessible and urban.

“Every performer loves to see people get taken over by something out of this world. It’s great that we can still capture imaginations in a day and age when we’ve all seen so much and we’re over saturated with innovation.

“This year is particularly special as we’re using the Market Square for the street entertainment which is amazing. It’s a really old art form so to see it in the market square of a Medieval city is something quite special.

“There will be three shows going on at the same time as the programme is fuller than ever before.

“There’s no equivalent festival anywhere else – Durham is quite different.”

To find out more go to www.durhamstreetsof.co.uk