‘Try something new’ at art and literary festival

Organisers of the Thame Arts and Literature Festival. Pictured from left to right is Brian Pattinson, Yvonne Maxwell and Steve Banister
Organisers of the Thame Arts and Literature Festival. Pictured from left to right is Brian Pattinson, Yvonne Maxwell and Steve Banister

About 2,000 people are expected to ‘try something new’ this weekend and catch a show at Thame’s third annual arts and literature festival.

Organisers have deliberately kept tickets prices down. On average they are £6 each, to encourage families to book seats at shows they would not normally take a chance on.

Highlights this year include Oxfordshire-born Pam Ayres reading from her autobiography, a talk by Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry and an appearance by broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby.

Festival director Yvonne Maxwell said: “It is fantastic that we have all sorts of big names coming to us. But that is just part of it.

“We have lesser known writers, drama performances and a musical. We also have two children’s events and authors coming. There are so many things that people can come to.

“Most of the tickets are £6 and we are quite cheap compared to other festivals. And because of this we are challenging people to go to one event that they have never heard of.”

This year’s festival features 26 events and other highlights include a performance by the Crendon Chamber Orchestra and a talk on Britain’s most eccentric sports – such as gravy wrestling and the pantomime horse grand national.

A particular draw is likely to be Edna O’Brien, who rose to prominence in the 1960s with her provoking and shocking views about men and society which inspired millions of women.

Her first venture into writing saw her books burned and banned in her home country of Ireland because of the sex lives of the characters. Edna will be interviewed on stage at the Spread Eagle Hotel by Irish poet Bernard O’Donoghue, where she will talk about her autobiography and encounters with Hollywood giants, pop stars and literary titans.

Festival director Yvonne said: “She has had such an amazing life. She’s certainly an icon from my generation and it’s great to see her in person.

“We feel very privileged that she agreed to come to Thame.”

Another show set to draw the crowds is a talk by the BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz, which asks questions such as What is modern art? Why does it incite such loathing? And why on earth is it worth so much money?

At the Players’ Theatre will be a tribute to Charles Dickens and the characters he created. At the town hall journalist Harry Mount will explore what makes us English and where our traditions, such as driving on the left hand side, come from.

In the witty show, which is full of questions ‘we didn’t know to ask in the first place’, he charts influences on the country from Roman times through to unmasking the original Basil Fawlty.

Yvonne came up with the idea for the celebration while helping stage the annual Oxford Literary Festival.

She said: “Thame is such a beautiful and vibrant market town and I thought we could do something, but much smaller, here. And it just grew and grew.” Although the festival only lasts for a weekend, she says it takes a team of volunteers the best part of a year to put it together.

“It keeps me occupied,” jokes Yvonne. “Once it is finished we will have a few months’ rest and at Christmas we will start planning next year’s festival. But publishers and authors are constantly writing and contacting us about new launches and as our name gets known more people are writing to us directly.”

The festival closes with the Sunday Night Show, featuring Thame comedians Rob Deering and Sassy Clyde.

Yvonne said: “We are so lucky that they have agreed to come back to Thame, because they don’t always get a chance to do that and play in their home territory.”

The TAL festival runs from October 12-14.For more details visit www.talfestival.org