Dorchester Festival

Biennial festival with music, art, workshops, food fairs and more.
Venues around Dorchester-on-Thames, Fri 3 May - Sun 19 May 2019

Taking over the scenic village of Dorchester-on-Thames, the biennial Dorchester Festival raises funds for the impressive Abbey with over fifty events across the fortnight. It all kicks off with some brave volunteers abseiling down the 100 foot Abbey tower, followed by a Family Dog Show. For the remainder of the two weeks, there will be talks and workshops on a range of subjects, including CGI, plant-based food, and wildlife in the Hurst Water Meadows. For music fans there are the likes of an open mic night, the BBC Elstree Concert Band and the Oxford Collutorium performing a range of memorable cinematic pieces, as well as a capella, folk and jazz nights. Other festival highlights include a Mad Hatter's Tea Party and a food and gift fair amongst the Abbey's cloister garden. All of this closes with a production of Romeo & Juliet taking place in the Abbey.


May 13, 2019
A talented medley bring an evening packed with laughs

Comedy Night, Friday 10th May 2019

The final weekend of the Dorchester Festival kicked off with a packed tent in the mood for an evening of laughs. There was a warm and friendly atmosphere, and whilst I found the banquet seating odd to watch a stand-up comedy set, it added a social element with my partner and I able to converse with those next to us. Dorchester Festival not only raises money, it also brings its village together, which makes it doubly good.

The evening was expertly MC’d by Taylor Glenn. She was a warm and personable host, gamely teasing audience members, causing laughs on several topics, and managing to find the funniest way to eat some brie. She held the evening together, teeing up each comedian well. Each of the acts brought a different style to their set, which made them an interesting group to watch in a row. First up we had Paul F Taylor, who relied heavily on word play and audience interaction. Taylor proved skilled at deconstructing old jokes (I particularly enjoyed his bit about ‘knock knock’ jokes) but at times his routine had a tendency to stretch out moments beyond the funniest point.

Chortles turned to guffaws with the next act, Michael Fabbri. Running at a terrific pace, bouncing from topic to topic, Fabbri was consistently funny, building to moments when the audience were in tears of laughter. Of the evening’s comedians he was the one who most successfully tapped into what the audience were looking for, and his story of his young daughter in the play park was hilarious.

The night was capped by Angela Barnes, a ball of furious energy. Deeply topical and intelligent, for some in the room her set was perfect. For others it was noticeably not and Barnes expertly shut down a heckle (in response to, what else, Barnes turning towards Brexit). Yet this seemed to pull the comedian down a tangent, which was less funny and more brutally honest, one that explored the words we used and the gender disparity that exists here. There is a brilliance to what Barnes does, but it was probably not the right fit for the evening. The tension that crackled in the tent during her set was fascinating and I’d gladly watch Barnes in another setting. A skilled comedian certainly, but maybe not what the village of Dorchester was looking for this evening.

After the spicy kick of Barnes’ set, Glenn wrapped up the night and sent us on our way. It proved a fun evening, even if it had more tension than I had expected, proving a fascinating case study in judging your audience. All of the comedians were strong, talented performers but it was really Glenn and Fabbri who grasped what we were looking for. Such is the magic of exceptional stand-up comedy.


May 7, 2019
A window into another world

Ben Morris – Star Wars, CGI and Me - Sun 5th May 2019

Ben Morris, Creative Director of Industrial Light & Magic’s London Studio, offered a fascinating, astounding and amusing peek behind the Star Wars curtain, explaining how CGI and other effects in the films are brought to life.

Before I launch into Ben’s excellent talk, it’s worth saying a few words on the delightful Dorchester-On-Thames Festival. This annual happening is hosted by Dorchester Abbey in the idyllic village of Dorchester-On-Thames (which is not, I must note, the same place as just Dorchester). Boasting around sixty events over 16 days, the festival genuinely does offer fun for all the family. Not knowing what to expect, I was amused and delighted to stumble across the scarecrow trail and rubber duck race as we ambled around the wisteria-scented streets. Attractions include theatre, music, dance, crafts and walks. Some events are free, like the teddy-bear sleeping bag workshop. Some events are paid, like the Ben Morris talks and Folk Night. The cakes in the tea rooms, however, are always delicious. A wonderfully British affair, the festival carries on until the 19th of May - so still plenty of time to catch it!

Back to Mr Morris. The talk was given in the abbey building itself. The magnificent vaulting structure was both in contrast too, and somehow appropriate for, the grand subject matter that is Star Wars. Ben himself was a natural and fluid speaker, clearly passionate about his subject matter and keen to share his love of the creative arts with others. And gosh there was a lot to share. A brief run-through of Ben’s career was enough to make a grown man weep with envy. Beginning by working alongside Jim Henson on The Muppets' Christmas Carol, Mr Morris proceeded to work on beloved titled such as Babe, Gladiator, Warhorse, and later Harry Potter, Gravity and, of course, The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens.

The sheer scale of effort put into these films is jaw-dropping. Walking us through the process to design, bring to life and ultimately blow up a spaceship, I finally understood why it takes a crew of people around a year to create eight seconds of content. I will never look at that long list of credits at the end of block-busters the same way again. It was also gratifying and fascinating to get an insight into the Star Wars aesthetic and philosophy. It’s a bewildering mix of high and low tech, moving back and forth between paper drawings, CGI and physical models. The lengths gone to get things right is astounding, including making physical gun pods to pilot and building multiple real-life sets. As Ben said; “This is Star Wars, we like to do things for real”.

The hour and a half (!) long talk flew by and I came out far wiser in the ways of The Force. If you’re a Star Wars fan and this chance ever comes up again, grab it with both hands. I recommend keeping an eye on the Dorchester Festival in the future – loads of great stuff to be done and, you never know, there may be the return of Ben Morris.

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