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  • Writer's pictureReview Culture

Festival of the Sea Grimsby makes a splash!

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

The Festival of the Sea Grimsby

17th July 2021

Produced by Walk the Plank and The Culture House

Festival Square St James Minster

It may not be Freedom Day yet, but The Festival of the Sea still managed to bring a quirky brand of live arts to the people of North East Lincolnshire in a relatively COVID-safe environment. Staging a festival whilst most restrictions are still in place is both a challenging and ambitious task. The newly refurbished square outside the Grimsby Minster provided a wonderful outdoor setting by providing a well-spaced and COVID safe venue for families to visit and to reintroduce wonder and excitement within our area.

The heat may have put some attendees off, ironically, as there is little shade in the square but many who did not possess tickets claimed that they had been unaware that a festival was even being held and a few dissenting moaners could be heard beyond the barriers set up to keep the event safely confined. Hopefully, they will seek out information in good time for the festival next year as it is hoped that this was a cautious pilot for future events.

Those in attendance were treated to high-quality acts from across the UK, all accustomed to entertaining audiences of all ages outdoors but the principal goal was to create a sense of awe and wonder among the children present at the event. A small number of local vendors offered food and ice cream etc. to attendees though as at all outdoor festivals, the vendors set their own prices as the event was being subsidized whereas their businesses were not. Festival organisers did try to direct attendees to consider using local venues for further refreshment too name-checking the likes of The Sidewalk Cafe, Riverhead Coffee and Vittles Café Bar on the Festival of the Sea’s social media. Hopefully, in future years the festival will be able to expand and might even choose to stage some events in such small independent local venues and will be able to feature the wide range of local artists eager to make a splash with the Festival of the Sea. We need to ensure that this kind of event develops a local slant and to support and promote independent local businesses. It was a delight seeing Alfred Enderby represented in a “boat” offering smoked fish, nautically themed to punters and very tasty they were too!

Walking around Festival Square, attendees were treated to an array of surprisingly entertaining and ever so slightly bonkers street acts. None more so than the giant seagulls who not only wandered through the crowds threatening to steal their chips or ice-cream but also somehow, managed to perform on the music stage with local musicians.

The steampunk-esque Submercycle took children on a voyage of discovery around the festival site much to the delight of those lucky enough to ride aboard such a unique vehicle.

The incredibly bonkers duo of Val and Halla, two scary Viking maidens (with suspiciously bearded faces) strode amongst the crowds aboard a Viking ship threatening all and sundry until realizing the universal appeal of Abba to bring crowds together and they made a lot of friends with their daft antics.

And finally it was impossible to miss the giant Lobster a la carte as a steampunk ringmaster escorted a hand cart featuring an enormous inflatable lobster offering colour and spectacle to Grimsby having visited Freeman Street Market the day before as pre-publicity. It was perhaps the perfect metaphor for the scale of ambition in this inaugural festival. Unfortunately, I missed the duo consisting of a shipwrecked Captain and Bosun in Lifeboat, who had been at sea since 1786, but I am told they were highly entertaining too.

A music stage was set up on the newly designed performance area and series of local musicians performed. I particularly enjoyed listening to The Caistorways, who presented a series of sea shanties under the noon day sun.

Then there were the associated shows to consider, the first offering I saw was Lempen Puppet Theatre performing Fisher and His Wife, a re-telling of one Grimm’s Fairytales. The story was of a fisherman and his wife, in a small cottage, made of dirty old metal. They had everything they ever needed, but one day a talking fish starts granting them wishes… This was a traditional story with renewed relevance, set to delight all ages. A small audience sat entranced as the company weaved their magic under the shade of a tree. Children were swept away in the story telling with the charmingly sculpted puppets and were more than happy to join in when appropriate.

The other show I saw was Walk the Plank’s Climate Change Mythbuster Machine. A wonderfully Heath Robinson’esque vehicle made from recycled materials reclaimed for good formed a face that challenged the audience by munching through the lies often surrounding the discussion of climate emergency. It proved a very effective way of passing the message to the young and the young at heart on a hot Saturday afternoon.

My personal favourite was a children’s show entitled Box by Inverted Theatre. Two performers portraying brother and sister embroiled in sibling rivalry, fought a battle suggesting "anything you can do I can do better". Each performed a series of acrobatic balancing tricks that got more and more daring and skilful. Their gravity defying balances looked effortless but are highly technical and require, strength, balance and supreme concentration. Theirs was a truly impressive show and I recommended it to everyone who would listen having seen it during the middle performance of the day.

The other especially impressive spectacle was entitled Out of the Deep Blue by Autin Dance. The show was a combination of dance and puppetry on a level worthy of comparison to Handspring’s Warhorse at the National Theatre. Waves wash EKO, a Sea Giant, onto the shore where this ancient creature encounters a young girl – and they tell us their stories highlighting earth’s climate emergency through movement and masterful puppeteering. The charming, wordless storytelling managed to convey excitement, enthusiasm and emotion. One lady remarked that she found it deeply moving and wept a little, surprising herself in the process.

Overall, I found the festival to be engaging and entertaining. It had a crazy, quirkiness that was charming, and I can’t wait to see how the event develops next year as we continue to celebrate Grimsby’s nautical heritage. But in these pandemic times, it was an absolute pleasure seeing something so joyous, provided free of charge to the residents of North East Lincolnshire. I absolutely take my hat off to the organisers Walk the Plank and Grimsby's own, Culture House. Here’s hoping that it can grow and attract a wider audience and become a firm favourite on the area’s cultural calendar.

Andy Evans

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