So it’s on. I had some doubts over this one. Lumiere already had the good fortune of being a biannual festival that skipped 2020, but 2021 has been far from a normal year for festivals. Brighton and Buxton Fringes operated on a reduced scale, Edinburgh Fringe limped on at a fraction of its normal size, and in Durham both the Brass Festival and Miners’ Gala were cancelled a second year running owing to continued uncertainty over restrictions. Would Lumiere meet the same fate? The outlook for November wasn’t any better than the outlook for July.
One thing we’ve learnt from experience is that yes or no decision usually gets made when it’s time to commit the money. An event cancelled a four months’ notice is only embarrassing. An event cancelled at two weeks’ notice is embarrassing and a financial disaster too. But the crunch came and went and … Lumiere is go. It is not clear what factors went into the decision, but one thing that must surely have counted in its favour is Durham’s 2025 bid for City of Culture. County Durham’s strongest asset is its festivals, and it would have been been a big setback to axe its flagship festival at this vital moment.
However, things aren’t quite the same this year. As an outdoor festival, it doesn’t have the same risk as big indoor events, but as veterans of the 2011 festival can tell you, it can still get dangerously crowded without plague thrown into the mix. As a result, crowd control measures have been stepped up, and this plus the influence of City of Culture has meant quite a few difference.
Here it comes again. Lumiere is coming back for its biannual festival. With this being ten years since the first festival in 2009, this festival has been billed as an anniversary celebration with many – but not all – of the installations being favourites from the last five festivals. Two months ago I came up with my own wish list, which lead to Artichoke’s social media team describing me as a superfan, which I though was a bit much until I realised that I’m probably one of very few people who not only goes over all four nights but also goes to Lumiere London every time it’s on, so I guess that’s fair enough.
One word of practicalities before we begin. Blog regulars will know I always say this, but for anyone new: unless you are bringing young children who can’t last into the later evening, you do NOT need a ticket to make the most of Lumiere. When the organisers say may sound like a platitude for anyone who didn’t manage to get one, but they are 100% correct: there is more than enough to keep you busy from 7.30. About two thirds of the festival takes place outside the penninsula, and there’s still a real festival feel. Although it’s true to say that most of the best stuff is inside the ticketed area, it’s an easy enough task to see this after 7.30 when the ticket restrictions are lifted. If you’re only coming on one night, you can make the centre your finale.
Anyway, as always, I’ve looked through the programme and come up with a list of highlights. This time I’ve had to be especially choosy – there’s a lot of things coming back that I liked, but I’ve already got a third of the festival listed here and that’s about the limit. So without further ado, here we go. Continue reading →
I’ve been meaning to write this for several months, but now I’d better get a move on. Next month the programme for Lumiere is revealed, and as this is a 10th anniversary Lumiere, they are going to give this a special theme I’m unofficially naming “Lumiere’s greatest hits”. There will be a few new installations coming, but most of them will be some of the most popular installations over the last five biannual festivals. In which case, here’s a good opportunity to give my own wish list for my dream Lumiere line-up.
Here’s the rules of this game. These installations are all personal favourites of mine, but I have taken into account popularity amongst other people too. I have, however, set myself a rule that it must be possible to put these all into one festival. I loved most of the centrepiece installations in the Market Place, for example, but the Market Place can only have one centrepiece at a time. Very occasionally, I will take the liberty of advocating moving an installation, but that is strictly reserved for cases where there’s two installations in the same place and I can’t bear to let either go.
Footnote: I’ve found out through my channels that one of these on the list is coming, but I won’t say which one because I respect embargoes. But it was already on my wish list before I knew it was coming.
Some people said that this installation was overused after coming back for a third appearance – but it would surely be unthinkable to leave out this iconic projection over the first three festivals. The images of the Lindisfarne Gospels projected over Durham Cathedral was the definitive image of Lumiere, and without this I doubt the festival would have catapulted the festival to national fame. As well as the images, the music used for the project – existing music though it may have been – was perfect for the setting. Nothing says Lumiere more than Crown of Light – surely surely surely this has to be in the 10th anniversary lineup.Continue reading →
Before I get stuck into Vault festival reviews, there was the festival in London the month before. What started off a one-off festival on Durham, then become a bi-yearly fixture in Durham, and then branched out to a one-off in London, is now a regular fixture in London too. This is a theatre blog and a light festival blog so I won’t be giving a detailed critique of every single attraction, but as this is a Durham-based blog and this is Durham’s greatest cultural export, this deserved a mention here.
Let’s get started:
The bigger festival
After the inaugural Lumiere London of 2016, there were questions over whether it could return, not because it wasn’t popular enough, but because it was too popular. Crowding became a big problem, even causing the King’s Cross area to be closed on Saturday night. Not as bad as the infamous Lumiere Durham 2011, but every possibility that the next Lumiere London could be a repeat of this as the festival grows in popularity. But the solution implemented in Durham – closing off the Penninsula to all but residents and ticket holders – must have been out of the question for central London. Continue reading →
Tuh. Lumiere festivals are like buses. You wait ages for one to come along, then you get two at once. However, for non-obsessives who live in Durham or London, you get one festival every two years. Durham has just had its festival, now it’s London’s turn.
Lumiere London is possibly the greatest coup that County Durham culture has pulled off. Durham’s festival was already one of the most popular and most prestigious festivals over the whole of the north-east, now it has been exported to London and proved a hit there too. In fact, if there was anything at all to fault of Lumiere London, it’s that it was too popular, with more people coming to see it than anyone had expected.
So, as usual, here’s my preview based on what I’ve previously seen in Durham. I cannot give the lowdown on every single installation coming to London’s way – most of them are things that are completely new to Lumiere – but a lot of them have been to Lumiere Durham before. This is where I can lend my expertise. Continue reading →
Newcastle might still be dominating the north-east’s cultural scene, but the prize for the biggest single cultural export surely belongs to Durham. Originally intended as a one-off in 2009, threatened by funding cuts in 2015, the Lumiere Festival is now not only a cultural institution in the north-east but has also been taken successfully to other cities, most notably London, who are bringing it back for the second time later this month. I’ll be giving my recommendations for London shortly – before that, however, let’s take a look at what Durham had to offer.
As usual, I’m not doing to do a comprehensive roundup of everything, simply pick out some highlights of what I think we should do more of in the future, and also some suggestions of what I’d like done better.
One interesting thing I did was compare what happened this year to what I wrote about in 2015. This year, there was one big change imposed on the festival which is that a lot of Durham is a building site at the moment. Two major sites north and south of the Milburngate Bridge were (and still are) in various states of demolition and rebuilding, and most notably, the Cathedral itself, normally the centrepiece of the festival, has its own building work going on that made the normal installation impossible (more on this is a moment). There was, therefore, a few reasons to believe this would be a different Lumiere to previous festivals. Continue reading →
And here we are again. Another two years, another Lumiere. Only this time, I need to start calling this Lumiere Durham to distinguish it from the other Lumieres. Yes, in 2016, there was the launch of Lumiere London which was a great success. In fact, the only problem was that the festival was, if anything, too popular, with crowds sometimes too big to handle. There were doubts that Lumiere London could return, but it is, January.
However, at the risk of showing bias, Lumiere Durham remains the original and best. A light festival in a big city is all very well, but nothing beats a festival where the whole city is part of the festival. So without further ado, let’s have a look at what to expect. Continue reading →
Before I develop too much of a backlog again, let’s do a roundup of Lumiere’s first ever festival in London. This is going to be a relatively quick roundup as it’s already been written about extensively in the London papers, and where I’ve written my thoughts about something in my Durham coverage, I generally won’t be repeating it here. But I do have a few new thoughts this venture to the capital.
As you might be aware, I don’t write much about what’s going on in London because I live in Durham. Up to now, my coverage has been limited to the odd play I’ve seen when I’ve been passing through London for whatever reason. Well, this time I’m going to write my first preview piece for a London event because, you lucky lucky London people, Durham’s #1 arts festival is coming your way this week. Lumiere has been coming to Durham every two years since 2009 and its popularity just grows and grows, but recently they’ve been branching out to other cities too. In 2013 it was Derry/Londonderry, and now it’s the turn of London.
In spite of Lumiere’s runaway success up north, London, I think, will be a bit of a gamble. There was a real festival feel in Durham with Lumiere dominating the whole city centre for four days, but central London’s too big for that. Instead, there will be one cluster of installations around Soho, and another cluster around St. Pancras. And Lumiere can expect much fiercer competition in London against all the other festivals in the capital city. Can they recreate the format that works so well in Durham? On the other hand, with 8 million inhabitants of London in reach, if it’s a success, the sky’s the limit. We should know which way it’ll go next week. Continue reading →
At last! My reviews backlog is under one month long, and this means I can turn my attention to the one non-theatre event I cover every two years, and that’s the legendary Lumiere. Back for its fourth biannual appearance, it’s once again been every bit the popular event it was expected to be.
This year, I was in the fortunate position of holding a gold card pass with possibly the most piss-poor claim to be “an employee of a city centre business”. So I had a perfect chance to get a good look at most things several times over the four days. It’s now nearly a month later and attention’s turned to that ghastly thing at the end of this month, but let’s have a look back at the festival and give my thoughts on it. Continue reading →