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Arts & Entertainment

From cuneiform to graffiti – Swindon Festival of Literature has all writing bases covered

Matt HollandMatt HollandAs Swindon Festival of Literature inches towards its quarter century, different methods of written communication – from the oldest to the very recent – will be celebrated this year.

Unveiling the 2017 programme at Swindon Library today (Thursday, March 16) festival director Matt Holland mused on how the way we use writing to communicate our thoughts is changing.

“In a digital world where the currency of topical commentary can be successfully and powerfully compressed into 140 characters – definitely a great method of instant communication – the book is still doing remarkably well,” he said.

“People still love books: the artefact, with its cover and pages and special feel, not just because of the durable technology by which the book is produced, but because of the slow, careful, and undemonstrative attention to clarity, detail, and depth of thought that you really only find in a book.”

Looking back to the earliest form of writing, developed more than 5,200 years ago, Matt announced that Irving Finkel, cuneiform tablet director at the British Museum, would be coming to Swindon to talk about the first written words, etched into pieces of clay by the ancient Mesopotamians.

And a contemporary form of written communication - graffiti art - will be explored as part of a Hip Hop themed evening at The Tuppenny: a new host venue for the festival. Graffiti writer and cultural historian (and who’d have thought yesterday’s ‘vandals’ would be today’s ‘cultural historians’) will be discussing the Four Elements of Hip Hop: graffiti, DJing, MCing, and breakdancing.

Those Four Elements could almost be the (First) Four Elements of Swindon Festival of Literature: writing, talking, music and dance. The festival might be primarily about books, but it’s always a platform for other art forms, as demonstrated by some wonderful storytelling by dancer and musician Bafana Matea who - like hip hop - came to to Swindon via New York, with African roots.

Dancers from The Wilkes AcademyDancers from The Wilkes AcademyPerforming for the festival launch audience, Bafana, with Michael Fergie and dancers from The Wilkes Academy, brought to life the story of three Aboriginal girls and their experiences as members of the ‘stolen generation’, where children were forcibly removed from their families in early 20th century Australia, a story immortalised by Doris Pilkington in her 1996 novel Rabbit Proof Fence.

The festival, of course, has a Fifth Element: thinking. Matt asserts that one of the festival’s ‘hidden agendas’ is the exchange of ideas. And there’s plenty in the programme to provoke deep thinking: Marcus du Sautoy, author of What We Cannot Know, wonders whether it is possible that one day we will know everything, while Brian Clegg, author of The Reality Frame, asks whether science is taking us closer to the essence of being human.

Thirty years after he was captured and held hostage in Lebanon, Terry Waite will seek to shed light on the human condition in a discussion about his latest work, Out of the Silence, while comedian Francesca Martinez, who has cerebral palsy, asks simply: What the *** is Normal?

Politics always plays an important part in the festival, and with Labour currently lurching to the left, the Conservatives veering to the right, and all of us living in Brexit Britain, Mr Centre Ground, David Owen, will discuss Cabinet’s Finest Hour, and explore how close Britain came to seeking a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany.

For some light relief, there’s cookery with Milly’s Real Food writer Nicola ‘Milly’ Millbank, poetry at the Swindon Slam, a 5k Freedom Run around Lydiard Park, and the Children and Families Day on Sunday, May 7 with spoon puppet making, Hilda’s Happy Hut, and child-friendly talks by authors Jack Cooke (The Tree Climber’s Guide) and Rina Mae Acosta (The Happiest Kids in the World).

The festival starts at 5.30am on Monday, May 1 with the Dawn Chorus - singing, storytelling, juggling and music set against a backdrop of the rising sun over Lawn Woods – and ends as it began today, with music from poet-musicians Tongue Fu, and female barbershop singers Barberelle, poetry from Vanessa Kisuule, and stories told by Rachel Rose Reid, at the Festival Finale on Saturday, May 13.

In all, there are 50 events designed to entertain, inspire, and engage the brain over 13 days. For a full programme, log on to


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Theatre-lovers invited to dip into Pond Life

Young actors from Pewsey will be performing a one-act play at the Bouverie Hall on Wednesday, March 22 before taking it on a short tour.

Written and directed by Nettie Brown of Pewsey Vale Amateur Dramatic Society, Pond Life is performed by PVADS’ multi award winning Youth Theatre.

The play is set in a newly planted pond, with all the young actors playing amphibians and insects. Life is good - but the delicately balanced ecosystem is threatened by an influx of new creatures.

Will the Newpond residents fight to retain their quiet way of life, or is there another way to deal with the crisis?

Pond Life will be performed on Wednesday, March 22 at 7.30pm. Entry is free, with donations to support the Youth Theatre welcomed.

Pondlife will be showing at Woolstore Theatre, Codford on March 24, and at the One Act Play Festival in Wootton Bassett on April 1.

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Marlborough movie lovers getting chance to watch film under the stars

The Lost CinemaThe Lost CinemaMovie lovers are to be given the chance to enjoy open air cinema in the grounds of Marlborough College.

Followers on the The Lost Cinema Facebook page are currently being polled to decide which film should be screened. Front-runners include The Breakfast Club, Bridget Jones’ Baby, Labyrinth, Dirty Dancing, and Top Gun.

The event will take place on Saturday, July 15 from 9.30pm.

Other events are taking place at Westonbirt School near Tetbury, St Michael’s Park in Cirencester, and Stanton House Hotel near Chippenham.

For more information, visit


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Away with the fairies – woodland trail is coming to Pewsey

Pewsey Fairy TrailPewsey Fairy TrailFairy folk are heading to Pewsey, and visitors will be able to visit their tiny houses during the village’s first Fairy Trail.

Trees along the woodland walk called The Scotchel will be adorned with tiny doors and windows made by local children.

The trail will also feature a wishing well, art by local artists, and magical messages from the fairies.

The trail will be open to visitors between 11am and 3.30pm on Sunday, April 23. Attendance is free.

For more information, log on to


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White Horse Bookshop’s Open Art Exhibition to become an annual event

The 2016 exhibition (Photo by Niels van Gijn)The 2016 exhibition (Photo by Niels van Gijn)Following last year’s successful Open Art Exhibition at the White Horse Bookshop, the Exhibition is set to become an annual fixture for the town.  This year’s Exhibition will be in May.

The inaugural Exhibition in 2016 celebrated the opening of the bookshop's art gallery. More than a thousand visitors enjoyed more than eighty entries in a variety of mediums. Exhibitors included tutors who run the White Horse art classes and their students.

The manager of the White Horse Bookshop, Angus MacLennan, told Marlborough.News: “I hope that everything that is submitted will be included in the Exhibition. It is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to see their work of art on the wall.”

[Click on image to enlarge it][Click on image to enlarge it]As a keen amateur artist himself, Angus believes “there is nothing better than thinking and drawing.” His drawing of a Roman sarcophagus [left] is featured on the flyer advertising this year’s Exhibition. “I saw this many years ago and wanted to draw it. It was a technical challenge but it was fun.”

All exhibits will be for sale with the price is to be fixed by the artist. Exhibits must be submitted between April 1 and 17. Only one piece per artist can be submitted and may not exceed 50cm x 50cm once framed.

This year the exhibition will be extended to include sculpture. But with obvious space limitations, artists should check with Angus to confirm size restrictions.

The White Horse Bookshop Gallery is hosting several exhibitions this year. In March a textiles exhibition entitled Delving Deep will feature work from students at New College, Swindon  which has been inspired by either Wiltshire history or nature.

April hosts the semi-abstract/architectural work of Will Wilford, who is completing an MA at Bath. Will has a family connection to the Chandler family who used to own the White Horse building in the early twentieth century.

In addition to the exhibitions, the White Horse continues to offer some twenty art courses each month. There are still places available on several of these popular courses ranging from Watercolours for the ‘positively terrified’ to - for the more assured - Going Wild in Watercolours.

For more detailed terms and conditions artists should check the White Horse Bookshop website.  Or contact 01672 704001 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Festival favourites Dreadzone to play Marlborough gig


Perennial festival favourites Dreadzone will be appearing at Sound Knowledge on Wednesday, February 22.

The elecro-dub-rock veterans will be playing a short set at Thirty8 cafe in support of their brand new album Dread Times, before signing copies in-store after the performance.

The performance will give the fans a rare chance to see the band in an intimate setting.

Put together by former members of Big Audio Dynamite, Dreadzone have carved out a twenty-plus year career that's seen them championed by the late John Peel, support Oasis at their legendary Knebworth concert and release a string of inventive, genre-mashing albums including 1995's massive Second Light.

Dread Times is the group's eighth studio album and was recorded at Mick Jones' Bunker Studio, featuring writing from long time collaborator Don Letts.

The performance starts at 6.30pm and attendance is free by registering at

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Rehearsals for the Marlborough Community Passion Play start as cast welcome their professional lead actor

The first rehearsal: Frazer Blaxland (standing - Jesus) with Ben Tanning, Edward Maurice, David Maurice, Alison Shelby & Pauline BerrymanThe first rehearsal: Frazer Blaxland (standing - Jesus) with Ben Tanning, Edward Maurice, David Maurice, Alison Shelby & Pauline BerrymanRehearsals are underway for the Marlborough Community Passion Play which will take place in the town on Easter Saturday, April 15 from 4 to 6 pm.  Spectators will not have to pay to watch the performance.

Frazer Blaxland, the professional actor who will play Jesus, and those members of the community who have been allocated speaking parts, met on Sunday for the first read through of the script written by Helen Stokes.

Helen, who is the play's artistic director, believes that “The retelling of the most famous story in Western culture will bring the community together and it will be a fruitful experience for all those involved.”

Volunteers are still required to assist in a variety of ways. Teams of stewards are needed on the day. 

They will receive basic Health and Safety training, be dressed as Roman soldiers and will be required to attend the rehearsals in the week prior to the performance.

If you would like to be involved, contact the Production manager David Wylie at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call/text  on 07434802554.

Planning the moves...Planning the moves...  The team behind the production:  Back row - l to r: David Wylie, Liz Woods, Martin Milner, Charles Joseph, James Seddon, Louise Seddon Front row: Hugh de Sarum, Andy Tatum, Nina Woolrych, Noel Woolrych, Helen Stokes, Vincent StokesThe team behind the production: Back row - l to r: David Wylie, Liz Woods, Martin Milner, Charles Joseph, James Seddon, Louise Seddon Front row: Hugh de Sarum, Andy Tatum, Nina Woolrych, Noel Woolrych, Helen Stokes, Vincent Stokes

The costume department are looking for donations of fabrics in neutral shades, fake fur and leather, old tie-backs, tea towels, sheets and anything else that would be appropriate for middle eastern costume of that period.

If you can help please contact Carole Walker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 07539081449 to arrange a suitable pick up or drop off point. Alternatively suitable materials can be delivered to the Jubilee Centre in the High Street - by the clock - Monday-Friday, between 8am and 2pm.

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