A magical weekend of vintage variety by the sea is coming to Morecambe.
The town is gearing up for the return of the popular Variety Festival on Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4.
Part of the Viva Morecambe weekend, the popular festival at the Winter Gardens theatre will see over 20 live shows ranging from circus to sideshows, new drama and puppetry.
Weirdly wonderful attractions will include the Kapows’ One Man Circus which features tight ropewalking, giant beach ball juggling, the Temple of Wonder Show which features plate spinners, unicyclists, Edinburgh Fringe-winning acts like Mat Ricardo and gymnast Adriano Fettucini.
The Winter Gardens hosted many famous variety acts in its heyday and this festival will bring the theatre right back to that golden age.
There will also be short plays commissioned especially for the festival.
The Cavern of Aquatic Oddities tells the tale of a mournful mariner guarding a deadly secret in a sea cavern far beneath the waves of Morecambe Bay.
‘The Ice Book ‘is a magical shadow puppet show made entirety of paper and light – a chance for kids to see live entertainment in a really interesting and underused environment.
The Variety Festival is a joint venture between ex-Morecambe High School pupil and events promoter Neil Kendall, and the Arts Council England.
The festival has also drawn financial support from Morecambe Town Council and Lacaster City Council.
“We forget how valuable an asset the Winter Gardens is to the town and have been delighted to play a significant role in attracting national funding into the building and helping to contribute in some way to its upkeep,” said Neil.
“Of all the venues that we work at, the Winter Gardens holds a special place for us all.
“It’s a magnificent building and has a heart beat back in it again thanks to the volunteers, stage crew and mangement there.”
As a special project and an ode to the Winter Gardens, Neil has been at work to create a piece of new drama, which will make its debut at the festival and is a Winter Gardens first.
Called The Empty Theatre, it’s a potted history told on a moving tour seen through the eyes of three actors.
They will trace the rise and fall of the theatre which is both poignant and full of northern humour.
“We start off in 1977 with an usherette who is locking up the theatre and is excited to see 1970s band Showaddywaddy in one of the last big events before the theatre closed,” said Neil.
“Then we go back to the 1950s and the golden era of great variety when the theatre hosted up to 33,000 audience members a week who crowded in to see radio and film and TV stars like local legend Albert Modley before going back to 1897 when elephants bathed in the bay much to the delight of the local children before being paraded live on stage.”
Based on real people’s lives and archived history of the theatre, this is as much a barometer of 20th century life as it is the changing face of theatre and popular culture.
The whole event coincides with the reprise of the Morecambe Carnival on Sunday, May 4.
“It’s a perfect bedfellow for the festival,” said Neil, who is loaning a series of puppets from the famous Chester Midsummer Watch.
“It’s going to be an amazing weekend for the town.”
On offer outside the Winter Gardens will be live suitcase theatre from Bentham-based puppeteer Collette Knowles and giant beasts from Liverpool company Headstrung Puppet Cabaret as well as comedy walk about acts Kaz and Britney. “We love the Morecambe Variety Festival,” they said.
“It’s so eccentric and diverse and we are delighted to be back causing our own brand of comedy mayhem in the town.”
A giant side show will also appear on the promenade outside the theatre with the appearance of Crustacea the crab girl, the queen of the bugs and the mysterious Dr Diabalo and his Chamber of Chills.
To cap everything off, a big night time spectacular show is being premiered at the theatre.
‘Around The World in 80 Days’ is the theme of the epic evening show, which sees 15 international variety acts take to the stage.
“Our Hallowe’en and King Neptune’s Ball were great but this promises to be really spectacular,” said Neil.
“You can see circus, comedy, juggling, cabaret and mind boggling tricks at the show which features a giant sunken city and hot air balloons light up bumble bees and breath taking feats.
“It’s our most spectacular event ever.”
A prize of £100 is up for grabs for the best dressed guest so please come dressed up.
“Morecambe audiences have always taken the theme to their hearts and have always been well dressed when it comes to our shows, so we are expecting some great costumes,” said Neil.
“It will be the jewel in the crown to a very special weekend in the town.”
Tickets for the evening show are on sale at Dotty’s Vintage, 13 the Warehouse and Hair by Katy Louise outside the Winter Gardens.
The daytime events are free some shows with limited seating can be booked in advance to guarantee seats via the Morecambe Variety Festival page on Facebook.