Kensington and Chelsea Festival is delighted to announce that it is set to return for a third consecutive year. Spanning the summer – from Saturday 1 July to Thursday 31 August 2023 – the festival will take place across the borough in a reimagining of its spaces. From the best-known cultural venues to the less discovered areas and outdoor spaces, Kensington and Chelsea Festival will make use of every inch of the borough to host a multitude of live art performances, large and small, showcasing exceptional established artists alongside the very best emerging talent.
With a cultural offerings that span theatre, circus, opera, dance, music, outdoor arts, family shows, participatory activities, talks, walks and public art pieces, the festival was born out of a desire to lift spirits by celebrating culture and creativity.
Kensington and Chelsea Festival was established in 2021 with a firm goal of ensuring the myriad events offer everyone in the borough and beyond a chance to experience the widest variety of culture on their doorsteps. The Festival is run and funded by Kensington and Chelsea Council.
Festival Main Programme Highlights –
Luke Jeram’s Mars: One of the most exciting projects to appear at the Festival will be Mars, the touring artwork by UK artist Luke Jerram.
Measuring seven metres in diameter, the artwork features 120dpi detailed NASA imagery of the Martian surface. At an approximate scale of 1:1 million, each centimetre of the internally lit spherical sculpture represents 10 kilometres of the surface of Mars.
The artwork allows us to view Mars from the air, as though we are a satellite mapping and studying the surface in perfect detail. Every valley, crater, volcano, and mountain are laid bare for us to inspect. We are transported to this desert wasteland, to imagine what it’s like to step foot on this incredible planet and in comparison, really value our life on Earth.
Mars was named by the ancient Romans for their god of war because its reddish colour was reminiscent of blood. Accompanying the Mars sculpture is a specially created sound composition by BAFTA and Ivor Novello award winning composer Dan Jones. Featuring the sounds of seas, deserts and clips from NASA missions to Mars, it also incorporates the sounds of distant bombing and people marching, as if to war. This new soundtrack allows viewers the opportunity to reflect on the current conflict in Ukraine and the history and notion of war.
“Mars: War & Peace follows on from my other touring astronomical artworks Museum of the Moon and Gaia, allowing a close encounter with the Martian planet. Presented with a new soundtrack for the first time at Kensington & Chelsea Festival, I hope that visitors will feel transported to its inhospitable desert wasteland, whilst also being faced to contemplate the bleak realities of war on our planet.”
– Luke Jerram
The installation is a fusion of Mars imagery, light and surround sound composition. Each venue also programmes their own series of events to contemplate not just the beauty of the red planet and wonder of space science, but also to highlight injustice and the effects of war.
Mars follows the hugely successful appearance of Luke Jerram’s previous works at the Kensington and Chelsea Festival each attracted up to 3,000 visitors per day. This summer will be the first time that Mars has been installed in a Church setting and a new soundscape has been created especially for the festival.
The installation will appear at three different sites across the festival:
- St John the Baptist Church (W14 8AH) from Saturday 22 to Sunday 30 July 2023
- All Saints’ Church (W11 1JS) from Monday 31 July to Tuesday 8 August
- Jubilee Square (W8 7NX) – an outdoor setting on from Thursday 10 August to Sunday 13 August
- Tickets will be required, but all locations will be free to visit.
Extensive outdoor arts programme – Another key exciting strand to the festival’s programme is its extensive and free to attend outdoor arts programme, which has been carefully curated to be suitable for – and appeal to – all ages.
- LUNGS OF OUR CITY by 2Faced Dance – An emotional, athletic, and timely work featuring a striking 4m tall scaffold tree, three male performers inhabit a futuristic space where wanderers of a desolate world come together to breathe in our polluted cities. London Premiere
- FORESTS by Rogue Play – A family-friendly show that challenges forestry practices, our over-consumption of timber, the destruction of rainforests, the displacement of Indigenous peoples and the systemic racism driving the creation of ‘treeless land.’ This highly visual spectacle sees acrobatic performers climb and manipulate the tree, throwing, clambering, and trampling. London Premiere
- LANCE MOI by Joli Vyann – A show about the sensitivity and connection between two people which brings about compatible contradictions. Can we be strong whilst relaxed? Heavy whilst light? Grounded whilst levitated? Can we be dropped into the air?
- THE SWINGS by All of Nothing Aerial – Part performance and part installation, The Swings is both an aerial dance duet – the performers arrive to fly high throughout the day – and an open invitation for the public to swing high and free on two magnificent, larger than life, five-metre-high swing sets. The Swings are open for the public to sit and swing on, triggering a sound installation as they swing. For little ones, it’s unusual and fun – for grown-ups, it’s a time-machine that allows them to travel back to childhood… London Premiere
- SPURTING MAN by Avanti Display – This street theatre spectacle wordlessly and hilariously introduces us to the pompous Spurting Man who appears on his pedestal and demonstrates a series of bizarre displays to Ravel’s Bolero as 200 litres of water fall from his very body.
- CRAWDADDY by Gravity and Levity – an aerial dance trio played out to live music from Scott Smith whose taut steel guitar strings release raucous blues and swampy atmospheric loops for the piece’s imagined setting of backyard Americana. The three veteran performers dance, tumble, spin, and glide through a looming wooden and metal aerial rig, using the tensile strain of their connecting ropes to expose both vulnerability and interdependency as they navigate the nature of human relationships, both literally & metaphorically. World Premiere
- THE CROW by Avanti Display – An outdoor multimedia piece, featuring video projection, live music, and fascinating gadgetry, designed around featuring new compositions from Seaming To, Lou Glandfield and George Khan. The show begins at twilight when three musicians arrive at a gig, but as the evening darkens the atmosphere begins to change. Will they ever discover the secret of the egg? Perched above it all is Crow and she may well have all the answers, there is really no way to tell.
- EARTH AND SKY by The Bullzini Family Circus – World class high-wire walker Chris Bullzini leads an intrepid troupe of aerial artists and musicians to take an audience on a journey with circus. This is a new show created in light of a climate emergency, an invitation to an invocation. With a nod to our ancestral roots and giving voice to Mother Earth, The Bullzini Family Circus use circus combined with ritual to lift audiences out of your ordinary and up into “active hope”. London Premiere
- CHOOGH CHOOGH by Beeja – This dance company performance work is inspired by the joy for travelling through India on a train. It combines classical Indian dance with contemporary movement, theatre, and play, sharing with audiences a world full of colour, invention, and flow.
- CIRCUS FLAVOURS by Upswing – This collection of short, high-quality circus performances showcases the breadth of talent from Upswing’s pool of diverse, energetic, and highly skilled Associate Artists. Each performance is followed by an open circus skills workshop led by the company’s artists, where the public has a chance to ‘have a go.’ For anyone who’s dreamt of joining the circus.
- GRASSHOPPERS by Circus Katoen (Flanders) – A reproduction of the resilience and vulnerability of nature and the role that we as humans play in it. Grass is a living material and recognisable to everyone. On the one hand very vulnerable and on the other hand it can really take a few knocks. In Grasshoppers, Circus Katoen remove a piece of green from its natural habitat and bring it above ground level using trestles, planks, rope, and their bodies. The audience follows the artists transforming the grass into an object that is literally mobilized, manipulated, and controlled. A portion of nature ends up in unnatural situations, a specialty of mankind. London Premiere
- Captive: DANCING FOR SURVIVAL by Motionhouse – Four performers use an exciting blend of dance, acrobatics, and aerial work inside a large cage. Disorientated and shaken, they use their skill and instinct to survive in this emotionally charged and athletic piece.
- Knot: DIVING INTO HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS by Motionhouse – Motionhouse’s second show sees two dancers using extreme physicality, complex lifts, and contact choreography to explore the many facets of human relationships through physical expression. Twisting and turning, the balance shifts from one dancer to the other as they use their physicality to express their emotions. Inspired by Salvador Dali’s ‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus,’ Knot asks questions about who we are; delving into our inner lives and our relationships with others.
- CASTAWAY by Highly Sprung – A stunning outdoor performance that explores the impact of today’s throwaway society on our waterways. Featuring a unique gyroscopic flying machine, the all-female cast immerses audiences in an underwater world where performers dive, twist, and float over 26 feet in the air to delight, inspire and captivate audiences of all ages. CastAway responds to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a floating island of everlasting plastic that has now grown to 6½ times the size of the UK. It presents an alternative, sustainable and more compassionate way of being and challenges us to consider our own actions in the face of climate change. With the weight of plastic now greater than the weight of humanity, what better time than now to take action?
- CODE by Justice in Motion – A spectacular blend of physical theatre, parkour and trial bike stunts with live rap music that shines a light on issues of child criminal exploitation and county lines (the mobile phone lines that criminal gangs use to organise, store, and sell drugs). Vulnerable young people are particularly at risk of exploitation. They are often recruited by the gangs using drug debts, grooming or threats. A very poignant topic, in particular for younger audiences, but relevant and engaging for all ages. London Premiere
- ROLL PLAY by Simple Cypher – Three performers blur the boundaries between hip hop and circus, using intricate moves and virtuosic agility to give a captivating, cheeky and effortlessly cool performance. A folding bench is the meeting point for three strangers from different walks of life: a park bench, a bus stop, a waiting room. What unfolds is a series of playful interactions challenging identity, status, and societal roles. Building on Simple’s Cypher’s recognisable fusion of circus and hip hop, Roll Play features breath-taking Cyr wheel, dextrous group juggling, and feel-good choreographies performed to a pulsing urban soundtrack.
- BONDED by Alleyne Dance is an outdoor production that explores the construct of human dependency especially that of siblings – and how time and external conditions can affect the synergetic connection. Performed by twin sisters, Kristina and Sadé, the work takes the audience through a transitional journey of inter-and-independency through abstract dance narrative.
Venues taking part –
The Chelsea Theatre
The Chelsea Theatre and Kensington and Chelsea Festival launch an annual Open Call each year to enable 18 fringe shows to be presented at the Theatre over the summer. These are professional companies delivering work to audiences on a “Pay What You Want” basis, with a guaranteed fee from the festival. Content ranges from theatre to music, spoken word to dance. Programme announced shortly.
Notting Hill Carnival in Holland Park –
A return of one of the most popular collaborations from last year’s festival sees Notting Hill Carnival bring together two of West London’s most well-loved musical institutions for Carnival Culture in the Park; four nights of calypso, Steelpan and Caribbean jazz during Notting Hill Carnival with support from the festival.
- The opening night on Wednesday 16 August is Etienne Charles Carnival: The Sound Of A People. Etienne Charles brings the street energy of Trinidad with an exciting multi-disciplinary celebration of Trinidad’s Carnival through its music, movements, and masquerade. The original music, composed by Charles, tells the story of characters such as Jab Molassie, Dame Lorraine, Moko Jumbie and Fancy Sailor and tells the evolution of sonic elements of this most important cultural island ritual, including folk drumming, Tamboo Bamboo, Iron bands and Calypso.
- Night two on Thursday 17 August is the unmistakable sounds of Steel Pan. Steelband Summer will see performances from Notting Hill Carnival and Panorama stalwarts Enduranceand Pan Nation alongside North Tyneside Steelband who perform at Holland Park for the first time in their illustrious history and the new and exciting group The Lucumi Project – a fusion of African and Caribbean rhythms influenced by the historic diaspora tribe originating from West Africa.
- Friday 18 August is Pan Jazz. Once again it will be bringing an evening of Caribbean Jazz from some of the world’s leading performers including Debra ‘Pan Diva’ Eden, Daniel Louis, Kyron Akal, Carlene Sweet Wrists’ Etienne, Samuel Dubois, Delphina ‘Paness’ James, Duvone Stewart and Annise ‘Halfers’ Hadeed. All performers will all be backed by The Tabernacle Crew.
- The final night on Saturday 19 August, brings together a double bill of legends – Trinidadian calypsonian Crazy who is one of the most successful artists from Trinidad and Tobago and multi-award-winning calypso king Red Plastic Bag.
Festival partnership events –
Opera Holland Park
The festival is delighted to once again be partnering with Opera Holland Park to present a number of captivating performances. These include:
- ROALD DAHL’S REVOLTING RHYMES on the 1 July – A swashboggling show that will leave families full of laughter and joy. Waterperry Opera Festival brings a new family-friendly production of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a co-production with Opera Holland Park. Through the celebrated words of Roald Dahl, audiences are invited to delve into the world of fairy tales and adventure with this interactive, phizz-whizzing family-friendly show; Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. The show has a running time of just under an hour and is deal for ages 5+.
- Giacomo Puccini’s LA BOHÈME from 19 July to 5 August – Here audiences can immerse themselves in the passion and precarity of Puccini’s evergreen portrait of love and friendship in the Quartier Latin.
- ITCH from 22 July to 4 August – A world premiere of an explosive new opera from composer Jonathan Dove, adapted from Simon Mayo’s best-selling novels, Itch and Itch Rocks. With a sparkling ensemble cast and a soundworld that speaks of dangerous treasures, this is an element-hunting adventure story for all ages, spliced with comedy, peril and brilliant operatic set-pieces.
- Gilbert and Sullivan’s RUDDIGORE from 9 to 12 August – A comic opera which brings to life this tale of a witch’s curse, a thwarted courtship, an assumed identity, and the irksome business of committing daily acts of wickedness. John Savournin directs and sings the role of Sir Despard Murgatroyd, leading a splendid cast of G&S stalwarts and fresh talent.
- Opera in Song presents SONGS ON THE STEPS from 29 to 31 July – Curated by Julien Van Mellaerts and Dylan Perez, the Opera in Song series returns with a programme of three recitals to include a celebration of contemporary British art song, a portrait of songs by Puccini, Verdi, Debussy, Strauss and Schönberg, and a wicked retelling of Hansel and Gretel as told by the witch.
Culture at partnership venues: The festival works with several partner venues, each programming an eclectic range of performing arts performances.
Drayton Arms Theatre: Programme includes: Twinkle– An intimate portrait of long-standing pantomime dame Harold Thropp, who finds that he’s been moved to a dilapidated dressing room and reflects on the changing canvas of his life as he paints his face for the night’s performance.
Finborough Theatre: Programme includes: The Wind and The Rain by Merton Hodge – Directed by Geoffrey Beevers at Finborough Theatre and inspired by the playwright’s own experiences of training at Edinburgh Medical School – and arguably by his own love life as a bisexual man in the 1930s – this is a gentle but universal tale of coming-of-age, student life, and growing up.
The Coronet Theatre: Programme includes: An exceptional solo concert performed by Yevgeny Sudbin, hailed by The Telegraph as “potentially one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century”. Playing a repertoire of Haydn, Debussy, Liszt and many more; a unique opportunity to hear the critically acclaimed sensation play live for one night only.
Kensington and Chelsea on a mission –
At the heart of Kensington and Chelsea Festival’s careful curation is a desire to reflect, represent, inspire, and involve the entire community who live in the borough.
Year-on-year, the Festival aims to broaden accessibility, to bring people together, and to help to ensure that art, in all its forms, is available for all. To that end, 70% of the activities offered are either free or “pay what you want”, and concession tickets are available for all shows presented in theatres and established venues, thereby ensuring that budget is no barrier to residents enjoying the festival and perhaps trying something they may not have considered before.
Whether residents or visitors are in the mood for the raucous or the refined, our programming is intended to ensure that festival will have events in place to suit – from family shows, street art, and circus to visual art, opera, and open-air arias. In this way, the festival aims to increase accessibility and break down barriers to taking part (be they financial, cultural, language-based, or other).
More Festival Highlights –
Kensington + Chelsea Art Week Public Trail: Throughout the festival, visitors will be invited to explore Kensington + Chelsea Art Week (KCAW)’s fifth annual Public Art Trail, featuring vibrant and immersive public art, free for all to enjoy. The trail opens on 22 June, delivered in partnership with Kensington and Chelsea Festival with assistance from Kensington and Chelsea Council until the end of the festival on 31 August.
“Last year’s festival cemented itself as a notable event in London’s arts and culture calendar, attracting 35,000 people, with a strong mix of both residents and visitors drawn to the myriad attractions. Now for the whole of July and August, the public spaces in the borough will once again be packed with a wide variety of performances to cater for every taste. And with more shows than ever being free or pay-what-you-want” we’re delighted that there is also something for every budget.”
– Cllr Emma Will, Lead Member for Culture, Leisure and Community Safety
Kensington and Chelsea Council
“We’re so proud that our efforts over the past two years of running festivals in the borough have resulted in such positive feedback from so many residents and visitors, and we’ve set ourselves a goal of surpassing expectations once again. We are excited to present more performances and more public art in Kensington and Chelsea all the way through the summer.
We’re overjoyed to be back for a third year with a magnificent new programme that once again will celebrate culture in daring and magnificent ways across the borough. Kensington and Chelsea Festival’s core mandate is to bring joy and high-quality arts experiences to absolutely everyone, without the barriers of budget, culture, language, or anything else. To that end, we’ve ensured that a number of shows in the programme have no dialogue at all, to guarantee that that our event really does have universal appeal. We are excited to open our arms to everyone who may wish to visit this cultural hub over the summer.”
– Verena Cornwall, Artistic Director, Kensington and Chelsea Festival & Head of Culture and Place, Kensington and Chelsea Council
This year’s Kensington and Chelsea Festival is from Saturday 1st July until Monday 31st August 2023. To find out more about the festival, visit here…