Agenda item

Shane Waterman of Rochester asked the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe, the following:


“Dickens Festival Organisation


At this year’s Festival, we noted that a number of the readings and performance events within the Festival had been scheduled to either start at the same time, or overlap.


This caused audiences to drop significantly to an extent to which they were embarrassing to both audience members and performers alike.


The worst examples were Gerald Dickens’ own performance, which attracted an audience of just 25 people (it is normally a packed house!) and a reading of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which overlapped, had an audience of just five people.


Given that it is understood the Festival is being expanded somewhat to mark the 150th Anniversary of the death of Charles Dickens and is likely to attract a much larger number of visitors who will want to attend reading and performance events, the scheduling of these is going to be all the more important.


My contacts within the theatrical world tell me that the performers were deeply unhappy about the effect on their events this year, and despite the significance of 2020, some are already considering not offering their services.


What assurances can the Council give that far more attention will be paid to the scheduling of these performances for the 2020 Festival?”


The Portfolio Holder for Business Management, Councillor, Turpin, answered this question on behalf of Councillor Doe.


Councillor Turpin thanked Waterman for his question. He stated that there were more than 50 scheduled readings and performance events on each day of this year’s Dickens Festival. He stated that whilst the Council endeavoured to avoid clashes, such a packed programme did mean that events would overlap and unfortunately it was not possible to know which events would be of particular interest to each visitor.


Councillor Turpin stated that the availability of performers or those giving talks also had to be recognised. Such was the case with the Edwin Drood lecture, which the Council was unable to confirm until nearer the festival date, and needed to work around the lecturer’s limited availability.


He pointed out that the Council had received excellent feedback on this year’s festival, not least from Gerald Dickens himself, who took the time to send a message to the events team to thank them “for such a successful festival this year.”


He stated that this left the Council extremely well placed for next year’s Dickens 150 commemorations, to extend the ambition to put Medway on the map nationally and internationally, for such a famous son of Medway, as Charles Dickens was probably Medway’s most famous former resident.


He stated that officers were working with a number of external partners and would be developing a programme which fully reflected the importance of Charles Dickens, both during his lifetime and also to modern audiences.


He concluded by stating that the 2020 Dickens Festival on the weekend of 13/14 June 2020 would, therefore, be integral to the 150th anniversary commemoration, and the Council would look forward in the future to sharing the detail of what was planned.