One of the biggest cultural events in the history of Alton and East Hampshire is about to begin.

The final countdown to the inaugural Alton Arts Festival has begun with a ten-day celebration of the arts, community and creativity kicking off this Friday, June 5.

Organisers have promised a “multi-arts and multi-venue” festival that encompasses theatre, literature, music, arts and comedy.

The not-for-profit event boasts a hugely impressive programme with world-famous names rubbing shoulders with the best talent the Alton area has to offer.

Poet laureate Simon Armitage, acclaimed singer Cara Dillon, feminist author Laura Bates and comedian Richard Herring are among the big names on a varied and packed schedule.

World premieres, festival exclusives, hands-on workshops and compelling conversion in intimate settings are also planned along with kids’ comedy and parties in the park.

Festivalgoers should also expect a sprinkling of Jane Austen in an event that showcases the heritage, talent and creative spirit of the town and its corner of East Hampshire.

Arthur Smithy Alton Arts Festival
Comedian Arthur Smith is bringing his deadpan humour to the Maltings. (Arthur Smith)

“When we first considered putting on an arts festival, I really had no idea if we would pull it off,” said Annie Lancaster, Alton Arts Festival co-creator and chair.

“We set ourselves some pretty high goals and wanted to be ambitious for the town. But I needn’t have worried, as this brilliant team of dedicated, inspiring volunteers who make up the committee have put together an exciting, diverse and world-class line-up.”

“There are some real highlights in the mix,” added Annie, who called the literary programme “just fantastic”.

“I’m particularly looking forward to the family-friendly interactive show with Testament – a world record-holding beatboxer, MC and poet – at Holybourne Theatre on July 10.

“And then there’s Austen & Friends, featuring the world premiere of some of Jane Austen’s lesser-known poems set to music.”

An early highlight will take place during the opening weekend when Arts in the Park takes over the public gardens on Saturday.

The event has been billed as a celebration of Alton’s local community groups, giving people the opportunity to try new activities, see what’s on offer, and watch live demonstrations from artists and makers.

The programme is expansive but here’s a taster of what to expect: St Lawrence Church will host a community choral festival on Sunday evening, while HSDC will be the venue for Laura Bates & Patrick Lawrence in Conversation on Monday (July 8).

A poetry night will take place at Goldsmith Books on the 11th while Arthur Smith will bring his stand-up routine to Alton Maltings on Saturday. The same venue will also host a Strictly Showtime event on the 12th and The Voice semi-finalist Joe Topping will perform in Holybourne Theatre on the 13th.

“It has always been my hope the festival will have benefits beyond the ten days it runs,” added Annie.

“That’s why we’ve worked so hard to put together a programme that really does have something for everyone. Now the festival is just around the corner, we can’t wait for it to come to life.”

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