Petworth Festival hoping for the best, but ready to take a hit

Organisers of the 2021 Petworth Festival are pinning their hopes on the lifting of all restrictions on July 19.

Stewart Collins, Petworth Festival’s artistic director
Stewart Collins, Petworth Festival’s artistic director

The festival will go ahead either way, but without full lifting, it will certainly take a hit.

Stewart Collins, Petworth Festival’s artistic director, has put together an exciting programme on a scale similar to the programme he would have been offering in a normal year.

The problem, of course, is that this is not a normal year.

“We are working on the assumption that everything is pronounced to be good to go on July 19 and when that is announced, we will release additional tickets that we will be able to make available from July 19 onwards.

“For July 14-18 we will have to continue to respect the current arrangements. We are at 50 per cent capacity, and that’s not great for us because we have got excellent events and those excellent events do come at a cost to us, but we have built that into our plans. After that, we are hoping that literally 80 per cent of the festival will be taking place in a different environment where we can have more people in.

“But we took the decision fairly early that even if we were allowed to have 100 per cent audiences and no social distancing, our feeling was that audiences would be a little bit hesitant. So we have taken the decision that the capacity in all our indoor venues will be 75 per cent and 80 per cent for the outdoor venues.”

And if Freedom Day doesn’t happen?

“Well that will make a difference to our finances. It is not great for us that we are providing a festival on the same scale as usual but that we are having to do it on the basis of a smaller audience. Our hope and expectation is that things will be more or less back to normal and we have budgeted on that basis with the extra capacity we are hoping for. It will be another hit if the announcement doesn’t go our way, but we are bullish enough. Our audiences are booking in tremendous numbers to the capacity that is so far allowed. We have got 24 events sold out to the allowed capacity out of about 35 ticketed events, so things are great as long as everything goes to plan for July 19. But if it doesn’t, we will still go ahead, but just taking a hit. It is a gamble, but everything is a gamble and it is what we have chosen to do at the moment.

“I don’t think we have been at all cavalier or unwise in what we have done, but the kind of momentum we have got makes you realise how important it is to keep going. We have a responsibility to our audiences who have been fantastically loyal to us over the years, and we feel we have a tremendous responsibility to our performers who have had an absolutely ghastly 18 months. So we are being bullish without being foolish.”

Events will run between July 14 and 31.

The wide-ranging line-up of leading musicians and performers includes:

· Classical star-of-the-moment, saxophonist Jess Gillam, who appears with her new ensemble as part of their debut tour

· Multi-million selling author, comedian and former NHS doctor Adam Kay who brings his West End hit show This is Going to Hurt

· Living legends on the blues circuit, The Blues Band, fronted by Paul Jones who perform in the atmospheric Stable Yard of Petworth House

· Theatre-cabaret show Radio Live! a romp through 50 years of BBC Radio with Alistair McGowan, The Rev Richard Coles, Garry (‘here’s Garry with the sport’) Richardson, Charlotte Green and special guest Joe Stilgoe

· The Petworth Festival Summer Weekend, two days of free family theatre, hands-on participatory workshops, street acts and live music staged in the Pleasure Garden of Petworth House by permission of the National Trust

The box office is online 24/7 at or on 01798 344576 Tues-Sat, 10am-1pm.