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NEWS: 24th May

All the town's a stage for the two weeks of the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival in which the theatre plays a leading role. Big theatrical names abound - Wesker, Beckett, Goldilocks, to name but three - and they are treading the boards from the Little Theatre to local schools and community centres.

Samuel Beckett may no longer be with us, but the Godot Theatre company bring to us the comedy and tragedy of the great playwright in an evening ranging over a number of his works. Arnold Wesker, on the other hand is very much with us, or he will be on Wednesday June 29th, at the Little Theatre, recalling four decades of writing and performing, and reading from his plays, many of which are landmarks of twentieth century theatre.

Samuel Beckett

Goldilocks will always be with us, and Tutti Frutti Productions bring her to Central Street School, on the final Saturday, for two performances which will appeal, appal and delight adults and children over three. This follows performances for schools the previous day. Not to be outdone, Rapunzel also gets in on the act the following day in a puppet show at the Steiner Centre.

Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden are Festival favourites, and make a welcome return to the Little Theatre, bringing more of the mythology of the ancients to life with "Ovid's Metamorphosis", a show featuring such greats as Persephone, Orpheus, and the heart-stopping tale of Echo and Narcissus. As the Times - no not the Hebden Bridge Times - said "...praise be to Lupton and Morden, who made the gods live..."

The same venue mounts Rupert Wickhams performance of "Defying Hitler", his adaptation of Sebastian Haffner's recollections of growing up in pre-war Berlin, exploring how and why the Germans were seduced by the Nazis and their leader; "Donkey and Potto", a new and humorous presentation of the letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West and which concludes with a question-and-answer session with the performers; and the spine-chilling prospect of "David Benson's Haunted Stage". Black Sheep Comedy Theatre also appear, performing some "Fairly Tales", which are improvised on suggestions from the audience, and which was described as one of the most enjoyable shows of the Edinburgh Festival.

Elsewhere, local players Coyote Dream Theatre are at Wadsworth Community Centre, where it's "Raining Angels"; The Clown, The Singer and the Storyteller perform at Zion Cooperative Studio, and don't forget the stand-up comedy "bookends" to the Festival at the Picture House, with Jo Caulfield on the opening Sunday, and Mark Steel's one man show bringing the Festival to a hilarious end on the final evening.

And finally, to whet your theatrical appetites, another local company, Horse and Bamboo, will be giving free performances of two shows in St George's Square on Festival's first Sunday in the pPod, their stunning new portable theatre, as part of a programme of outdoor performances for "Sundays in the Square".

Dates, times and booking details for all events are in the Festival Programme, or call the box office on 842684.

One undoubted highlight of this year's Hebden Bridge Arts Festival, especially for children, is the featuring of the work of Quentin Blake and Charlotte Voake. The one was the first Childrens' Laureate, illustrator to Roald Dahl, and creator of Mister Magnolia and Mrs Armitage, and the other a winner of the Smarties Book Prize, and artist of "A Child's Guide to Wild Flowers"

Quentin Blake has been writing illustrating children's books for many years. His first collaboration with Dahl was in 1975 (Danny, Champion of the World), and they subsequently worked together on such masterpieces as the BFG; The Twits; Fantastic Mr. Fox and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His unique style echoes the way Roald Dahl's extraordinary writing stirs the imagination to bring the characters to life. No wonder he was once voted "The illustrator's illustrator"!. An exhibition of between 60 and 80 original illustrations, many for sale, is at Artsmill in Linden Mill during the Festival and until July 24th (closed Mondays and Tuesdays).

Quentin Blake

Quentin Blake will be at Artsmill on Thursday 21st July to talk about his work. David Wright, co-director of Artsmill, said "This is our third presentation by artists who offer their own approach to illustration. In 2003 we had Neil Pittaway and last year the Jane Eyre prints by Paula Rego".

Charlotte Voake draws in a similar style, with ink and wash, and, like Blake both writes and illustrates her own books and provides the drawings for other authors. Her book "Ginger" won the Smarties Book Prize. Her work, and sketchbooks, are on display in the Arts Festival Shop, on Albert Street, from June 11th, when the shop opens daily from 10 to 5 for Festival bookings. Festival Organiser Enid Stephenson said "these two linked exhibitions show how their work contributes to what is undoubtedly a second golden age of British illustration, and the Festival is delighted to host these stunning exhibitions".

The nightly hour of television coverage given over to the Chelsea flower show last week is a sign of the popularity of gardening as a past-time, as is the experience of anyone who tried to drive to Littleborough past Gordon Riggs last weekend. There's an abundance of magnificent and glorious horticultural specimens on offer, but what is suitable for your plot; what will grow in your particular corner of this Pennine valley (or hillside)? Certainly not a large part of the Chelsea exhibition, nor some of the more fanciful garden centre offerings.

Help is not far away, however, and it comes in the possibly surprising form of the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival. Not only does this offer the chance to explore a selection of local gardens, to see for yourself what will grow and to discuss the joys and disappointments of Pennine gardening at first hand with the gardeners, each weekend of the Festival, but there is also, for the first time this year, an opportunity to put your horticultural problems to a panel of local experts, in "Local Gardeners' Question Time" at the Little Theatre on Monday June 27th, as well as a number of gardening-related events such as a "Garden Pots Workshop" (making them, not potting them up) and an illustrated talk by a local garden designer on the art of gardening.

But back to the gardens. Twenty five of them, in fact. Open over the three weekends of the Festival - town centre gardens the first week (25/26th June); outlying and hillside gardens the middle weekend, and the far-flung outposts (Todmorden and Luddenden) the final weekend. And what a selection. From a national collection of astrantias, in a garden featured in a number of magazines over the last year, to a "tiny fairytale garden", and embracing cottage gardens, courtyard gardens, established and new gardens and family friendly gardens. Whatever your gardening theme is, it is likely that someone locally is showing how to do it during the Festival. Why, there's even a charabanc trip (well, minibus anyway) to take in three of the less accessible locations.

So, never mind if you missed Chelsea, give yourself a treat over the Festival; check out the itinerary in the back of the Festival programme and take time to enjoy the best of what the local gardeners can offer.

For details of all Festival events either check out the programme (in local shops and tourist centres, or download from the hebweb) or call the Festival information line on 01422 842684. The box office on Albert Street opens daily from mid-June.

Hebden Bridge Arts Festival