St Leonards on Sea 19/03/18

Great Expectations in St Leonards this Easter: #ATownExploresABook18

30th March-15th April

A literary festival for readers, non readers & those who just wanna have fun.

From the boldest to the tiniest voice in town, #ATownExploresABook18 is an emerging festival that values literary perspectives from all areas of the community, not just those who already have a comfy seat in literary and academic paneled libraries. And this flamboyant two week St Leonards' spring festival arguably tips many of those seats up, sliding its occupants out into the pavements and parks to explore afresh how a C19 novel can inspire. Since school students study our C19 tomes, adult readers return to them and film makers shoot interpretations of them, it's about time we thought about the nature of engagement with period literary masterpieces in the C21 and whose viewpoints should be heard. And where to have these discussions? St Leonards' festival, with its mix of vibrant unlikely indoor venues and outdoor spaces, is the place for these considerations.

In shop windows, flowerbeds, at café tables and in the earth itself, professional artists, community groups, local independent businesses and ExploreTheArch theatre company are gearing up to explore Dickens' Great Expectations this Easter from 30th March-15th April. Opening on Good Friday, trailblazers The Links Project, an organisation supporting asylum seekers and refugees in St Leonards and nearby Hastings, return with another interactive display on the back of their successful display in chemist, Boots Ltd, last year that elicited many insightful reflections from the community. Led by volunteer Kathy Briscoe, this initiative provokes inter community conversations with some of the most vulnerable members of society focusing on responses to words and not about the more well trodden conversations about personal circumstance. "We all achieve a mutual dignity when we share musings on words," she says.

Open Door, Hastings and Bexhill Mencap join the festival this year with their partner organisation Active Arts to take over the Mencap charity shop windows in Kings Road, St Leonards with insights into Dickens' masterpiece expressed in art work, film and writing. Professional illustrator Peter Quinnell takes to a shrubbery in Warrior Square Gardens to distill Dickens' novel from words to pictures and artist Susan Miller has chosen a steeply sloping unassuming pathway near the railway to consider the uphill hike that Dickens' hero faces in the school of life.

Newcomers to the festival Zoom Arts Collective are flinging open the doors of their exhibition space at St Leonards Warrior Square Station to share ten artists' explorations of the novel while in the ticket office itself, an interactive display in association with South Eastern Rail, themed on the friendship between hero Pip and his pal Herbert, invites passengers and passersby to pin up personal reflections on what friendship means to them.

Just up from the station in Kings Road, St Leonards, local businesses are gearing up to offer 'write in a café' experiences, window displays and an antiques trail. The Temperance Bar and Restaurant are running a short piece competition asking customers to respond to a quote from the novel. Remy's Café Kulinarya is championing dreams, inspired by the fanciful Mr Wopsle in the novel, a clerk in the church who realises his dream to become a professional actor. Pen and paper handy in this charming café to share personal dreams and aspirations and to pin them up over the fireplace. Across in Norman Road, Xanadu vintage clothing are styling Dickens' baddie, Bentley Drummle,with a flamboyant window display while The Bookkeeper Bookshop in Kings Road is creating a window display exploring unrequited love in Great Expectations. Biddy loves Pip but he does not love her. Pip loves Estella but... what a mess. How like life. See what the folk at St Leonards' fab secondhand bookshop make of it all.

Staff at restaurant The Wine Shed are sharing their affection for the novel with free wine tasting events on Good Friday and Easter Saturday, 1-3pm, themed around characters in the novel. They are also offering a free matinee showing of David Lean's 1946 Great Expectations on Sunday 8 April, 3pm, after the restaurant's Dickens' inspired lunch serving. Booking essential. And taking Wemmick's fantastical castle in the novel as inspiration, Burtons' St Leonards Society are transforming their beautiful lodge in St Leonards Gardens into a repository of emblems of an ideal home life. Inviting visitors to bring an object, a poem, a piece of art or similar to add to the exhibition, the society is joining with visitors to celebrate the desire in us all for a Wemmick utopian home life. Local young artists are additionally decorating the flowerbeds in St Leonards Gardens with Wemmick's giant cucumbers as well as rabbit and fowl sculptures made from discarded walking boots. On Easter Sunday, great eggspectations will abound with a boiled egg race at 11.30am in the gardens. An Easter prize awaits the person who rolls their eggs the furthest down the slopes of this magnificent park.

Many other events and experiences comprise the unique two week festival running through the holiday period including ExploreTheArch theatre company's production The House of the Identity of Things (advanced booking essential). In Gensing Gardens, artist Emma Harding is imprinting words in clay in the earth having collected testimonies from members of the community on their experience of violence. Inspired by the violence in daily life featured in the early chapters in the novel, she has already brought important conversations in the community out that don't often get an airing.

Words in the earth, art on railings, doodles at the café table, this is a unique opportunity to partake in a quirky festival that will prompt you to consider what your literary heritage means to you and explore myriad and unusual responses to Great Expectations. A trail map will be available at all festival venues from Good Friday for the entirety of the Easter holiday. Please check out the what's on page for opening times for each participating organisation and for advanced booking of some events.

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