I didn’t know what to expect from my first Poltimore, but found it surprisingly sweet and bursting with talent. Somewhere beyond Hay Festival and a smaller WOMAD or Greenman Festival, as a local arts festival it was modest but rich in substance. Proceeds from each year’s even to the namesake manor house, which also provides some striking performance spaces. From the back, Poltimore house looks like a battery farm, or a large corrugated warehouse, but inside, magic awaits. Iron sheets, scaffolding and a whole lot of love seem to suspend the 18th century manor house in the process of crumbling, and catch it in mid-air. During the festival, each wing held spaces for charming art exhibitions, from the likes of local artists such as Bethany Saunders. Other lofty rooms offered paintings, paperbacks and a special screening of LGBTQ+ cinema. The indoor manor courtyard provided a high-rise backdrop for low-fi rappers and singer song-writers: smashed stained glass windows, soaring walls and home-grown sounds surrounded intimate crowds in the space.
modest but rich in substance
The festival boasted a main ‘garden stage’ outside amongst its performance areas, along with another large corrugated space called ‘the chapel’. It hosted EUTCo’s Every Brilliant Thing, (editorial review on the way), and a special rendition of Macbeth in collaboration with the Sun & Moon Theatre group. The Scottish Play revamp, masterminded by Tom Draper, mixed Shakespeare with Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. The combo was as hilarious, scary and moreish as a well-blended whisky/buckfast cocktail.
as hilarious, scary and moreish as a well-blended whisky/buckfast cocktail
Drama wasn’t the only intoxicant on stage, as the cast popped parma violet’s for pretend pingers, and spat Stella into the audience (*gasps* in a chapel?!). Sebastian Fage and James Murphy had the crowd in stiches with their impeccable scotch rasps as Banquo and Macduff. The eponymous anti-heroes, played by Milly Parker and Alex Rowntree, blurred insanity and reality: their dialogue flickered from Leith slang to Jacobean pentameter as ambition took hold. The Macbeths were radiant and dangerous, like the flowers and thorns of a Hibernian thistle. During the performance, the odd sheep baa-ing in the distance offered a convincing soundscape for Scotland past and present.
The chapel also hosted some comedy sets from the Exeter Comedy Society. They offered raucous and engaging improv games, and a mix of electric stand-up. Dan Allum-Gruselle, a finalist of the student chortle awards, absolutely killed it with his routine. Allum-Gruselle raised hell in the chapel, firing off dry, self-deprecating one-liners.
raucous and engaging improv games, and a mix of electric stand-up
Wandering through Poltimore, you might stumble into knitted bunting, toddlers playing with a beach ball or spoken-word poetry in a forest glade. Budding poet George Richards performed some innovative and poignant ‘disintegrating odes,’ and Pip Ancla Udens versified some urgent social conversations from Exeter to Lebanon to the Philippines and back again. There was something surreal and symbolic about Pip’s climate change poem being slowly drowned out by some funky white boys on the garden stage beyond. James Wijensinghe also offered a chuckling, grounded spoken-word performance, giving timely voice to the pressures of toxic masculinity on the psyche.
Pip Ancla Udens versified some urgent social conversations
Between the poetry, comedy, drama, art and music, Poltimore’s festival-goers danced, ducked drizzle and relaxed in the post-exam haze. A shout-out must go to the baguette van serving irresistible halloumi sandwiches, and to the bar with its range of ciders, and its local ale called the Pheasant Plucker. Yep, seriously. All in all, a grand old time was had by most, and the day was long but very Poltimoreish.