The Rise of the Arts Festival

By Jess Meaden

There's nothing us Brits enjoy more than festival season - a whole summer of muddy wellies, unacceptably poor personal hygiene and great, great music. Yet with the likes of Edinburgh Fringe Festival as popular as ever (in 2014 alone, they hosted over 3000 shows in nearly 300 venues), there's a new kid on the block in the festival world - and it's as stagey as ever.

Last month we featured both Brighton Festival (2-24 May) and Manchester International Festival (2-19 July) on the blog and, with the Udderbelly Festival currently spreading its purple udders over Southbank once again ready for opening this weekend (9 April), we thought that now was as good a time as any to highlight our favourite arts festivals that take place in and around our beloved city (wellies inessential).


What: Udderbelly Festival
Where: Southbank Centre
When: 9 April - 19 July

Back in 2009, the folks at Underbelly Ltd joined forces with Southbank Centre to provide theUdderbelly Festival, 8 weeks of comedy performances, circus acts and family entertainment - and all hosted inside an iconic upside down purple cow. These days it runs for 15 weeks and has the title of 'Best Festival' (London Lifestyle Awards, 2012) under it's urr...udder? It's now moo-ving into its seventh year on Southbank and with acts such asNina Conti,Showstopper! The Improvised Musical and Circus Maximus scheduled this year, it's sure to be an udderly great few months of live entertainment.


What: London Festival of Cabaret
Where: Various Venues in the West End
When: 28 April - 11 May

The London Festival of Cabaret returns to a number of theatres and studios around London this year, with performers including Scott Alan, Cynthia Erivo and Kerry Ellis. The festival prides itself on celebrating the very best work from the greatest composers, lyricists and performers - and venues range from The Sam Wannamaker Theatre at The Globe, to The Delfont Room at the Prince of Wales Theatre.


What: London Wonderground
Where: Southbank Centre
When: 7 May - 27 September

Roll up, roll up! London's very own riverside playground packed with circus acts, cabaret performances and family entertainment returns to Southbank once more. Eat, drink and be merry in the ground's wide range of delicious eateries and bars, before entering The Spiegeltent - a magnificent and traditional circus tent - to watch one of the many shows on offer. It's the perfect way to clown around this summer.


What: London Burlesque Festival
Where: Dingwalls, Conway Hall, Bush Hall and Fidler's Elbow
When: 15 - 31 May

The London Burlesque Festival - the world's largest of its kind - returns to London for its ninth consecutive year with 17 signature events and over 100 star performers. Acting as a centre stage for the finest and most exotic forms of the genre, the festival prides itself on a celebrity following and a loyal and ever-expanding fan base who return year after year.


What: Accidental Festival
Where: Roundhouse, Camden
When: 22 - 25 May

For an affordable festival that supports both students of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and new talent in the arts and entertainment industry, look no further than the Accidental Festival. Produced entirely by second year students, the festival presents an opportunity for artists to share work and introduce fresh ideas to a new audience.


What: West End LIVE
Where: Trafalgar Square
When: 20 - 21 June

Musical theatre lovers, rejoice! West End LIVE, London's only outdoor event bringing the best shows in the West End to an open stage, returns in June for its usual two-day stint in Trafalgar Square. From Phantom of the Opera to The Commitments, they'll be all the best show tunes from all your favourite musicals currently playing in the West End. It's a great opportunity to get your theatre fix for absolutely free - and the perfect way to get a taste for shows that you're yet to see!


What: Greenwich and Docklands International Festival
Where: Across East London
When: 26 June - 5 July

London's leading 9-day festival of free (yes, you heard us, FREE!) outdoor performing arts returns at the end of June to various outdoor locations in East London. In 2013 alone, over 80,000 people attended the shows hosted by the festival and with a mixture of theatre, dance and street arts performances, it's no wonder why. With something for everyone and a focus on supporting deaf and disabled artists, there's plenty of reason to head East and support new talent.


What: Camden Fringe Festival
Where: Various venues in Camden
When: 3 - 30 August

The Camden Fringe, now in its tenth year, showcases anything and everything in live entertainment - ranging from opera and musicals, to stand-up and sketch comedy. An advocate for new writing, it also gives performers and creatives the chance to try out fresh material and support one another's work in a helpful and encouraging setting. With small performance spaces, quirky theatres and productions generally lasting around the one hour mark, it's a great introduction to fringe theatre and the perfect way to support new material.