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January 27th, 2020
Don't miss out on the West Country's best events, festivals and cultural activities with our handy compilation of things to do in Bath, Bristol and beyond in 2020. Diaries at the ready!
Bristol Slapstick Festival (23-26 January)
Banish any notion of January blues with this chucklesome, star-studded festival which showcases and celebrates silent and physical comedy from the archives, along with some of Britain’s finest, present-day comedians.
Rob Brydon, all three members of The Goodies, Harry Hill, Shappi Khorsandi, Paul McGann, Stephen Merchant and Lucy Porter (and more!) will be sharing their favourite clips, inspirational memories, comedy favourites, top tips and slapstick shenanigans in a range of events during the festival weekend.
Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years, Holburne Museum, Bath (24 January-25 May)
The first exhibition to survey Grayson Perry’s earliest forays into the art world will re-introduce the ground-breaking works that made his name between 1982 and 1994. Renowned for being one of the most compelling contemporary social commentators and recognisable British artists, many of the 70 items on display - which include his distinctive tapestry, collage and ceramic works - are often challenging and explicit in their exploration of themes of gender, identity and social class.
Mariner: A painted ship upon a painted ocean exhibition, The Edge, Bath (24 January-21 March)
One of the most influential poems in the English language, the epic maritime poem The Rime of The Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is the inspiration for this major exhibition of international art in Bath. Featuring 14 artists’ works, the exhibition connects the past with the present, informed by the latest research into marine science and marine pollution, the movement and migration of peoples across the seas, hidden postcolonial histories and human vulnerability and isolation.
Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward, Theatre Royal Bath (4-8 February)
Jennifer Saunders delights both critics and audiences in her wonderfully funny performance as the eccentric clairvoyant, Madame Arcati. Noël Coward’s spirit-raising 1941 play is a story about novelist Charles Codomine and his second wife Ruth who are literally haunted by a past relationship when an eccentric medium inadvertently conjures up the ghost of his first wife, Elvira, at a séance. When she appears, visible only to Charles, determined to sabotage his current marriage, life – and the afterlife – get complicated.
Toulouse Lautrec and the Masters of Montmartre exhibition, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath (15 February-26 May)
Victoria Art Gallery's Toulouse-Lautrec and the Masters of Montmartre will revisit the ‘street art’ of the era showcasing over 80 works by Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha, Steinlen and more. The gallery will bring the sights, sounds and joie de vivre of Bohemian Paris in the Belle Époque to life with music and entertainment to celebrate how art, music and dance were intertwined in this thrilling era.
Sarum Lights - a light and sound spectacular at Salisbury Cathedral (18-22 February)
This immersive, family-friendly light and sound spectacular explores the history of Salisbury Cathedral and the people who have looked after it over the past 800 years.
Combining soundscapes and awe-inspiring light projections themed around different aspects of the Cathedral’s story takes about an hour to view in full.
British Dal Festival, Bristol (1-10 February)
This week-long festival is dedicated to the magic of dal and similar lentil-based pulse dishes from around the world. Last year’s celebrations included a dal trail around Bristol, chef demonstrations and a grand finale at Paintworks with street food, market stalls, children’s activities and music.
Bath Bachfest (20–22 February)
Bath Bachfest is held each February in Bath’s elegant period venues, from the grand Assembly Rooms and Guildhall to the intimate St. Mary’s Church in Bathwick. During the festival, the work of 18th century composer Johann Sebastian Bach is interspersed by Baroque contemporaries like Vivaldi in a musical feast of suites, concertos, solos and ensembles.
Bristol Light Festival (28 February-1 March)
This brand new Bristol festival will bring light, colour and play to city centre spaces with stunning installations, created by local and international artists. The light trail, which covers well-known as well as off-the beaten track locations, can be viewed between 5pm and 11pm each day. What better way to cheer up one of coldest, darkest months of the year?
Beethoven 250 Festival (4-7 March, Wiltshire Music Centre)
Discover the music of the genius composer who penned the four most recognisable successive notes in musical history at Wiltshire Music Centre's mini festival. In association with Young String Quartet in Residence the Marmen Quartet and guest lecturer Katy Hamilton, the festival will celebrating 250 years since Beethoven's birth, with concerts, lectures and recitals that explore the music, the man, and his place in our time.
The award-winning Natural Theatre Company celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2020. To mark many years of making people chuckle, the team has developed a new stage-show that will be performed at the Rondo Theatre in March. Dirty Bath will peak behind Bath's ‘beige’ façade, unveiling the city's hidden past — riddled with tales of debauchery, villainy and depravity!
Trigger warning: this show will NOT feature Jane Austen.
Lyra, The Bristol Poetry Festival (13-22 March)
Tying in with the 250th anniversary of poet Thomas Chatterton’s death, the Lyra Festival’s theme for 2020 is Romanticism. The programme features a poetry slam, poetry film screening, family events, walking tour and an array of local, national and international poets, performing in venues around the city.
Bath Comedy Festival (31 March-19 April)
As well as star turns from comedic superstars Catherine Bohart (20 February, Ring O Bells), Geoff Norcott (3 April - Widcombe Social Club), Josh Widdicombe (18 April, Bath Forum), Bath Comedy Festival also finds and showcases some of the best up-and-coming performers during 20 days of exciting events guaranteed to have you giggling.
The legendary, magical mystery Wine Arts Trail has become an integral part of the festival's programme. The tour whisks punters around the hidden corners of Bath on an old red London double decker bus with a celebrity comic in tow.
Mayfest, Bristol (14-24 May)
Bristol’s biennial festival, Mayfest, celebrates contemporary theatre from all over the world in venues around the city. Highlights for 2020 include Bryony Kimmings at Bristol Old Vic Theatre with her autobiographical show I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, following a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. The festival will also host the first visit to Bristol from one-man phenomenon, Le Gateau Chocolat with his brand-new show Pandora. See the full programme here.
Pre-Raphaelites at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (16 May-27 September)
The Pre-Raphaelites were fascinated by the stories, objects and colours of an idealised medieval world and portrayed themes like chivalry, medieval romance and courtly love to the Victorian art scene in order to escape the reality of 19th century life. This exhibition takes a fresh look at the Pre-Raphaelite movement with a focus on paintings of knights and medieval heroines, featuring works by Edward Burne-Jones, Frank Dicksee, William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Bath Festival (15-24 May)
The Bath Festival is a celebration of books and live music with a diverse programme of more than 120 events over ten days. Featuring an assortment of household names and rising stars, so far confirmed for 2020 are comedian Rachel Parris (17 May) and Patti Smith (22 May). Keep your eyes peeled in February, when the full line-up will be announced.
The festival culminates with The Bath Festival Finale Weekend (23-24 May), with headline acts McFly and UB40 and many more joined by KT Tunstall, Fun Lovin' Criminals, Seth Lakeman and Billy Ocean for a bank holiday extravaganza in Bath! There will also be a kids zone, food and drink stalls and a spoken word tent.
Patti Smith at The Forum, Bath (22 May)
Queen of Punk Patti Smith will be bringing her band to The Forum in Bath as part of the Bath Festival! With a career that spans four decades, this is a rare UK appearance for the deeply creative and charismatic artist who is also celebrated for being a poet and activist.
Bath Fringe Festival (22 May - 7 June)
The Bath Fringe Festival is an annual arts festival which aims to raise the profile of contemporary visual arts and share art in unusual places in unexpected ways for people to experience. The two-week festival features exhibitions, events and workshops which are free to attend.
Upfest, Bristol (30-31 May)
Europe’s largest live street art and graffiti festival, UPFEST - crafted with POSCA, is back, bigger and better than ever! 2020 will see the festival take over a new huge venue, Greville Smyth Park, in addition to the original venue, The Tobacco Factory. The street murals traditionally painted during the festival weekend, will be created in the two weeks prior to the festival weekend (from 16-27 May) and the artwork previously found across a multitude of South Bristol venues will be brought together for a final weekend-long celebration of street art with 250 artists painting live. The affordable art sale, music stages, food stalls and family activities will round off a visually spectacular festival!
Held annually in stunning forest locations across the country, Forest Live is a major live music series managed by Forestry England. This year, Westonbirt The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire will play host to Rag ‘n’ Bone man (11 June - sold out), James Morrison and Will Young (12 June), Madness (13 June) and Keane (14 June). Income generated from ticket sales helps look after the nation’s forests sustainably.
Mark Rylance in Semmelweis at Bristol Old Vic (13 June-25 July)
In June, Oscar-winner Mark Rylance will make his Bristol Old Vic debut in the powerful world premiere of Semmelweis, developed with Writer Stephen Brown (Occupational Hazards) and Director Tom Morris (War Horse). The play is based on the true story of maverick Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, a radical pioneer of the medical profession whose rejection of received wisdom dared him to look at the world differently and held the potential to save the lives of countless new mothers. Can he convince a corrupt institution to see the truth?
Pub in the Park, Bath (21-23 June)
Tom Kerridge’s festival returns to Royal Victoria Park for three days of scrumptious food and a star-studded musical line-up. Tom Walker, Morcheeba, Beverley Knight, Rudimental (DJ) and The Craig Charles Funk and Soul Club will be joining Tom Kerridge, James Martin and their chef pals. Tuck into food from award-winning pubs like Rick Stein Marlborough and The Pony and Trap, watch Michelin-starred chef demonstrations and boogie along to live music. PLUS there’s still more to announce!
Bristol Sounds (24-28 June)
Shimmy the night away on Bristol’s Harbourside in a series of al fresco, waterfront gigs. This year’s stellar line-up includes Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (24 June), Supergrass (25 June), Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott (26 June), A Beautiful Day Out (27 June) and Jack Savoretti (28 June).
Bristol Pride (26 June-11 July)
Dig out your brightest togs for the annual celebration of the city’s LGBT+ community. The fortnight-long festival features theatre, comedy nights, parties, art exhibitions and gaming events, culminating in Pride Day's (11 July) rainbow-coloured march through the city centre as well as musical acts on The Downs.
Bristol Shakespeare Festival (1-31 July)
This summer celebration of The Bard's plays sees Shakespeare’s works brought to life in unusual spaces around Bristol. Venues include parks, playhouses, city farms and Brunel’s SS Great Britain - expect traditional and fresh interpretations, interactive, musical and choreographic productions.
Bristol Comedy Garden (July)
Bristol’s annual gigglefest brings a stellar line-up of comedians to pretty Queen Square. Details of comedians on the Big Top bill are yet to be announced - watch this space! There’s also onsite bars and gourmet street food to tickle your fancy.
St Pauls Carnival, Bristol (4 July)
This iconic Bristol festival celebrates the best of African Caribbean culture, with over 1000 people set to take part in an eye-poppingly colourful, costumed procession. Dance the day away to dancehall, reggae, calypso or drum and bass and feast on authentic Caribbean fare at one of the many street food stalls in this spirited community celebration.
NASS Festival, Royal Bath & West Showground (9-12 July)
Adrenalin junkies will go mad for this festival of music, street art and high octane urban sports. Heavyweight Drum ‘n' Bass, Hip Hop, Grime and Dance acts including Chase &Status and The Streets are all gracing the line-up, globally-renowned BMX and Skaters will be battling it out for a top prize and there'll be a site-wide celebration of live and curated street art in partnership with Upfest (founders of Europe’s largest street art festival). Bangin'.
Bath Carnival (11 July)
Celebrate carnival culture with this vibrant street procession of fabulous costumes, dynamic dance moves and live music as Bath is transformed into one big colourful parade. Sydney Gardens will also play host to a free Party in the Park with music, workshops, kids’ activities and food and drink stalls.
Belle and Sebastian, plus special guests at Lloyd’s Amphitheatre (17 July)
Iconic indie band, Belle and Sebastian, will be taking to the Bristol Music Stage in Lloyd’s Amphitheatre as part of the Colston Hall Presents programme on 17 July. The seven-piece band will serenade the crowds in an outdoor gig against the beautiful backdrop of Bristol Harbourside, joined by special guests Django Django. The one-off show will open one of Bristol’s biggest weekends of the year, the Bristol Harbour Festival which takes place from 17 -19 July.
Bristol Harbour Festival (17-19 July)
One of the city’s biggest festivals, the Harbour Festival celebrates Bristol's maritime history, the waterways which make the city so beautiful, and its shipbuilding past. As well as plenty of seafaring fun - a medley of tall ships, visiting craft and jaw-dropping water-borne displays, there’s tons of stuff going on along the shoreline too. From 175th anniversary activities at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, to live music on Cascade Steps and outside Thekla, a family-friendly mash-up of circus acrobatics and street theatre in Queen Square, to an eclectic mix of dance in Millennium Square and all kinds of food market stalls, it’s set to be a maritime extravaganza.
Weston-super-Mare Pride (18-19 July)
This seaside town will be bursting with pride at the end of the July with a jam-packed weekend of live music, cabaret, family activities, food and drink, pride parade and colourful after-party.
On 19 July 1843, one of the most important historic ships in the world, the SS Great Britain, was launched in Bristol. On 19 July 1970 - exactly 127 years to the day after her launch - she was returned to the city. 2020 marks the 175th anniversary since the ship first set sail and Brunel’s SS Great Britain will be celebrating the occasion with deck games, Go Aloft! (climb the rigging), canoeing taster sessions, live music in the dockyard, plus a chance to look around Brunel's great ship in the very spot where she began the first and last of her many journeys.
Cinema Rediscovered, Bristol (22-26 July)
Cinema Rediscovered delve deep every year to dig out contemporary film classics, digital restorations and some silver screen rarities from the archive and showcase them on the big screen.
WOMAD, Malmesbury (23-26 July)
WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) takes place in the pretty Charlton Park in Wiltshire and brings together artistic performances from all over the world, across six music stages. Hear over 150 musical acts, listen to fascinating talks, inspirational authors and debate, let kids run wild in the childrens' area and feel revitalised in the World of Wellbeing.
Redfest, Bristol (August)
This vibrant community festival held in East Bristol draws artists and performers of all kinds. Expect an exciting line-up of family-friendly fun, live music, DJs, art, dance and film.
Valley Fest, Chew Valley (31 July - 2 August)
If you’re after a spectacular soundtrack served up with lashings of Somerset spirit, head to this scenic family-friendly festival in the heart of the Mendip Hills. Headliners Deacon Blue and The Cuban Brothers will be dazzling the crowds, with more acts yet to be announced. There’s tons of fun for kids too, plus a huge foodie focus, with festivities including brunches, tapas and sit down multi-course feasts from a Michelin-starred chef.
Bristol International Balloon Fiesta (6-9 August)
Held in Ashton Court Estate, this four-day family-friendly event revolves around mass ascents of over 100 hot air balloons at dawn and late afternoon each day - an unforgettable sight. The famous Night Glows also draw the crowds, when the balloons are illuminated in time to music. While the balloons are the stars of the show, arena aerial displays, trade stands and fairground rides keep visitors entertained throughout the day.
The Coffee House Project, Bristol (5–6 September)
Fan of an excellent cup of Joe? This caffeine-fuelled festival at Bristol’s Passenger Shed features local artisan roasters and baristas who are serious about their coffee beans. As well as hands-on workshops and talks, expect scrumptious street food, a dash of music and an introduction to Bristol’s vibrant coffee scene.
Bristol Open Doors (September)
Ever pondered what’s behind some of Bristol’s most intriguing closed doors? Over this September weekend, don’t miss one-off experiences and entry to buildings in the city normally closed off to the public.
Wallace and Gromit in The Big Fix Up (Autumn 2020)
Combining the latest in augmented and mixed reality, Wallace & Gromit: The Big Fix Up, is an all new epic adventure where users will get to experience and interact with the story as it unfolds over time. On reaching the finale, you’ll have the opportunity to join the well-loved pair on the streets of Bristol (or from the comfort of your own home), using your phone as a ‘window’ into their world. More information coming soon.
Jane Austen Festival, Bath (11 - 20 September)
Each September, Bath’s splendid Georgian cityscape provides the perfect backdrop for a celebration of the life and work of one of its most famous former residents, Jane Austen. During the ten days, there are over 80 events including theatricals, readings and workshops, with one of the highlights being the Grand Regency Costumed Promenade, when fans fill the city’s streets clad head-to-toe in splendid Regency dress.
Sky Safari at Longleat, Wiltshire (11 – 13 September)
Gawp at the sight of over 150 hot air balloons soaring over the beautiful Longleat Estate. On Friday and Saturday evenings, this spectacular sight will be followed by a stunning ‘night glow’ set to music.
Encounters Festival, Bristol (20–26 September)
The UK's leading short film festival will be celebrating its 26th edition with a thrilling, schedule of film, animation and virtual reality, talks, workshops and masterclasses.
Bath Children’s Literature Festival (25 September-4 October)
Bath Children’s Literature Festival is Europe’s largest children’s literary event. Offering an imaginative array of talks and activities for children, it gives young book lovers a chance to meet the creators of their literary heroes, see illustrations come to life and fuel their imaginations. Last year’s world-class line up of authors included literary megastars Cressida Cowell, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler among many others.
Bristol Festival of Literature (October)
Returning for its tenth year, Bristol Festival of Literature presents a diverse programme, bringing writers, publishers and poets together for ten days of literary events around the city. Previous festival highlights have included a Bristol Writers’ Group reading their fiction in Redcliffe Caves and a writer’s retreat at Arnos Vale Cemetery.
Longleat Festival of Light (7 November-3 January)
Longleat Estate’s Festival of Light is dominated by hundreds of Chinese lanterns and glowing structures. Each year, the seasonal event is given a different theme (last year's was Myths and Legends), and the parkland is illuminated with with extraordinary creatures, inspired by a popular tale. The event also features an illuminated hedge maze, Santa Train and for extra festiveness, be sure to step inside Longleat mansion, which is decorated for an authentic 1920s-style Christmas.
Bath Mozartfest (13-21 November)
One of Europe’s leading classical music festivals, Bath Mozartfest has built a reputation for artistic excellence in both chamber and orchestral music. The nine-day festival celebrates the prominent composer and his peers through concerts and orchestral ensembles with world-renowned artists in some of Bath’s most atmospheric buildings.
Cary Comes Home Festival (20-22 November)
2020 is the centenary of Bristol-born Archie Leach emigrating to the United States on his journey to becoming Cary Grant. The famous Hollywood star arrived in New York on 28 July 1920, and the festival will be heading to NYC in July to retrace his film locations. The bi-annual Bristol Festival will focus on the theme Hitchcock and Cary Grant, as well as Journeys, with a Big Apple twist.
Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light (December)
Located in the heart of the Cotswolds, Sudeley Castle makes a fascinating visit at any time of year, but is particularly special at Christmas. Their annual event, the Spectacle of Light sees its award-winning gardens glitter and glow as they are transformed into a mesmerising illuminated trail, themed around a well-loved children's tale.
Westonbirt Arboretum Enchanted Christmas (December)
Westonbirt's Enchanted Christmas is full of magical sensory experiences, twinkly fairy lights and laser surprises hanging from dazzling tree branches. Surprises await around every corner, some of which are hands-on and thrilling for families especially. There's also festive fairground fun, natural Christmas crafts, choir to serenade the crowds and St Nicholas to be found.