Tunbridge Wells Winter Street Festival 2002

27 & 28-Dec-2002

The Winter Street Festival is a free event that brings street entertainment to Tunbridge Wells.

The Strangelings presented a Victorian sideshow transforming an ordinary looking gypsy caravan into an extravagant stage called The Gaiety Engine. An exceptionally English straight man/funny man double act presented all sorts of distractions including the most ferocious dwarf albino Siberian tiger (which looked a little bit like a lamb), a werewolf, an Eastern Fakir, a mermaid with a moustache, a German strongman, a giant singing shrimp & a finale seeing Queen Elizabeth the first arm wrestle with the elephant man's trunk into a custard pie.

After dancing around in a portaloo Mr Shanks of the Fairly Famous Family stepped out to perform. Starting with a little basic diaboloing (created by unassembling two plungers), then he splashed the audience with water (passed by the safety inspectors that morning) with a bucket & mop dance routine. The grand loo roll finale saw streams of toilet paper flying through the air. Despite a rain shower that made the ground rather slippery the High Flyers performed anyway. Limbo, hoop diving, tumbling, slapstick comedy & some really cool acrobalance including stuff such as a handstand on a crab on a crab. All presented in a fun style.

I was just off home on the first day when I stopped to watch Cyberstein, a towering robot sitting in a docking station. His engineer introduced the audience to the machine as he set the machine up. My first thought was that the act was merely a showcase for the technology involved & it really is a high quality set up, a fantastic sound system plays all sorts of tunes & sound effects, flashing lights, fireworks & smoke pour out of the robot during various malfunctions. But just as you start to feel sure that the robot is harmless, with perfect comic timing you are proved wrong. I have never seen an audience scatter (but come back for more) like that before!

Rin Tin Tin were blown through the precinct as the windy people, they wore lovely windswept costumes & acted as if they were trying to make their way through a hurricane. This act would've worked better as part of a passing parade, once people had seen them stagger back & forth once they'd seen it all. Also could have done with some louder & clearer sound effects too. Also marching through the precinct was The People Show, a solemn ghostly figure dressed in black passed silently among the crowd. He handed out tags on which you had to write down your fears & regrets, then you had to tie your tag onto the man's costume which was to be ceremoniously burnt later on. Unfortunately I never got to see my cars, Oprah Winfrey, celery & morris dancing go up in smoke.

I really enjoyed Company: Collisions' piece based on Hans Christian Andersen's story the Little Mermaid. A company of 4 all in wonderful costumes, told the story through dance & mime. Using a large wooden tripod frame with a huge billowing sheet as a backdrop, taking on the form of the mermaid's rock, the rigging of a galleon, a church altar & more. The piece was beautifully choreographed, the characters were very well portrayed & engaged the audience with humour & charm. Definitely one I'd like to watch again in a proper theatre.

Kim's dog Molly really loved Glowing Peg's Queen Elizabeth the first's elegant ballroom dancing through the precinct. Again lovely costumes, complete with dark sunglasses! A duo from Mischief la Bas performed as Redman harassing Blueman (looking a lot like Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air!) chasing him round & round in circles then cutting off his tie. Then they both adorned two loaves of bread as boxing gloves(?) which they set on fire & had a boxing match. Utter stupidity, great stuff!

Swizzle Shaker told a story of a barman falling for a beautiful girl who walked into his bar. Dave opened up his bar with a smart bit of hat juggling, amongst the usual tricks he threw & caught the hat with single spin using only his mouth. The girl walked in & entranced the barman with a display of flamenco dancing. The barman tries to woo the girl by showing off with some bar flair & some bottle juggling (smashed two :-). The show finished with the pair getting together & dancing the night away to some swing music. An entertaining act which didn't quite get it together due to being spoiled by the town's pikey element (where were the stewards?).

Definitely deserving top marks though was the firework finale. After a brief parade from the precinct down Mt Pleasant led by the excellent Brincadeira Samba Band from Brighton. Following on behind were The Fire Men who drove an old fashioned fire engine equipped with two troughs attached to the roof, into which they poured all sorts of colourful burning things. I'm not altogether sure if there was supposed to be THAT much stuff burning on top of the truck but it did look good! We arrived at the town hall which was decorated by swirling patterns projected onto the building. Standing tall in front of the building was a huge sculpture also laiden with fireworks. World Famous treated us to lots of really good quality pyrotechnics both in the air & on the ground, accompanied by the sound of In Dreams by Roy Orbison (my mum's favourite!). It was a really spectacular end, easily the festival's best ever finish.

There were some very good acts, (the Strangelings, Cyberstein, Company: Collisions, the Brincadeira Samba Band) & the finish was superb, but the festival seemed a bit scrappy, the street wasn't as well organised as last year. The walkabout acts were not of the same quality as in previous years & there was a lot of standing around waiting for something to happen. Was this an intentional ploy to make us go shopping? I certainly hope not, the Winter Festival has spent the past few years building itself as a standalone event, it seems a shame to spoil that.

Also see:
Tunbridge Wells Winter Street Festival 1999
Tunbridge Wells Winter Street Festival 2000
Tunbridge Wells Winter Street Festival 2001
Tunbridge Wells Winter Street Festival 2003