Review: The Best Of The Fest

Zoe Pennington Dance Studios
Zoe Pennington Dance Studios

Nine days of performing, and over 2,000 competitors: this year’s Eastbourne Music and Arts Festival was an all-singing, all-dancing success.

With the Festival’s usual home, Eastbourne Winter Garden, out of commission, organisers decamped to the impressive facilities of Causeway School - where last weekend they staged a huge celebration concert, The Best of the Fest.

A packed and enthusiastic audience enjoyed over two hours of entertainment, with two dozen solo and ensemble acts. Many were prize-winners, and various cups and shields were proudly on display, and the quality of performance was consistently high.

Too many to mention, really, but among those acts catching the eye were the immaculate Shining Stars, utterly living up to their company name; a hilarious army-officer spoof by Sam Blee; a superb, quite elastic solo by Emma Walker, blurring the line between dance and gymnastics; and a stylish class-act James Bond piece (pictured) from the Zoe Pennington Studios.

But this was all about participation and celebration. The Festival gives a platform to performers from age six to seventy-six (I didn’t actually spot anyone on the day who passed that upper age, but I daresay there had been one or two, during over a week of competition!). Among a couple of dozen volunteer organisers, the Festival has a tireless and redoubtable Chairman in Angela Hughes - and I caught up with her, all too briefly, in the middle of some lavish refreshments in a Causeway School Atrium that absolutely teemed with young performers and their families and supporters.

“We had no choice, of course, but Causeway has been a super temporary home with ideal facilities. This a lovely event which enjoyment and excitement with high performing standards. This year’s Festival had more than 2,000 entrants, but of course they do not all see each other during the week - so we wanted to bring people together with Best of the Fest.”

She’s no figurehead chairman, either, and no stereotypical arty-lady. At half-time I have to fish her out from backstage, where she is combining her presenter role with some stage management tasks. In fact, our conversation is interrupted because the Ladies is running out of essential stationery supplies, and Angela dashes off to sort the problem. On her return, she apologises for looking a little weary. “I was up at 5am this morning!” Ah, to get the show organised? “No. no, to listen to the Grand Prix on Radio 5Live! I’m a closet Formula One addict!” By Kevin Anderson.