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Review: Escaping the confines - and wathering the storm - at Beacons Festival

Light up the night - luminous art at Beacons. Photograph: Emily Shipp / RunRiot


The thing about Beacons is the feeling of discovery; that you could walk into any of the tents in the Space Between arts area and get totally swept away in something new.


Nothing represents this better than roaming theatre performers, Chicken Shop Shakespeare, whose act revolves around seizing the opportunity to bring drama to whichever setting they happen upon – whether in takeaway venues or at Beacons Festival:


“It’s so fitting to work somewhere like this [Beacons] because it’s got so many different people all coming together, breaking out of that everyday mundane kind of confine of work or life”, says Tom Didlock, one of Chicken Shop’s actors, “Coming to a festival, it kind of detaches you from reality for a weekend”.


Chicken Shop Shakespeare perform Hamlet live at Beacons. Photograph: Emily Shipp / RunRiot


This year’s Beacons Festival served up a crowded list of arts events, spanning spoken word tent Arts and Minds, newfound quirkiness with Impossible Lecture, arthouse films and documentaries in the cinema tent and a bit of everything else in the sleepily comfortable Into the Woods. (N.B. – the organisers at Beacons thoughtfully stage everything in large tents so events carry on, even when the storm hits - which it did.)


There was an impressive musical line-up at Beacons this year – Nightmares on Wax put on a stellar show on Saturday night, Daughter and Joan as Policewoman on Friday and a flashback with Neneh Cherry on Sunday. But this year if you only spent time in the music tents there was a lot you missed.


Daughter light up the stage at Beacons on Friday. Photograph: Emily Shipp / RunRiot.


Cinema screenings covered a whole spectrum from artsy film shorts to full-length classics. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the recent and thoroughly unnerving Under the Skin were late night showings, along with music documentaries like Mistaken for Strangers in Into the Woods. Kooky, candid love story Cutie and the Boxer was an unexpected highlight, featuring the life and works of Japanese painters Ushio and Noriko Shinohara in New York. Among the film shorts Damon Mohl’s beautifully rendered film The Diver stood out as an imaginatively shadowy take on the secret life of toys.


During the damp evenings and after the storms the light installations brought glamour to a dark field – disco balls, projections and neon lights became art in the darkness. But given the artistic sway of the festival, there could have been more in the way of daylight-ready art and visuals to explore.


With A Firm of Poets and Elephant Collective among others, there was a consistent stream of spoken word acts. Open late into the night, the Arts and Minds tent drew in those done with dancing or looking for something different. Matt Abbott's clean-living appearance belied his ‘punk poet’ status but he gave great poetic clout as part of A Firm of Poets.


Matt Abbott and A Firm of Poets rally the Arts & Minds tent. Photograph: Emily Shipp / RunRiot


The whisky tasting was a surprise. Amid the bands and the banter it seemed at first like an odd choice, but sampling some good 12 year Scotch soon changed that. It felt rather refined for a young festival.


On the theme of unexpected pleasures, an act appeared on the stage at Into the Woods on Saturday night consisting of Italian guitarist Giuliano Modarelli, tabla player Gurdain Rayat Singh and beatboxer Jason Singh. After the first couple of songs the audience was rapt. There was a feeling of having shambled in at just the right minute and discovering something unique. By the end of the weekend, this had begun to feel like a standard occurrence. If you’re after new experiences, you can’t wish for much more in a festival than that.


Earlybird tickets for next year's Beacons Festival 2015 are on sale now.

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