Strange things have been happening in Watford's town centre for the past couple of years – and they've nothing at all in common with what the town's youngsters occasionally get up to on Saturday nights! Imagine Watford, the free festival of street performance art, will take place this year between 20 and 30 June and is expected to draw in even more people than the 50,000 who watched last year.
Spearheaded by the Watford Cultural Leaders Group, this year's events include four co-commissions between the Lyric Hammersmith, Watford Palace Theatre, the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival and Latitude. They are Scoop from Pins and Needles (which involves an old ice-cream van, puppetry and disco), The Frenzy (based loosely, very loosely on The Bacchae) by RashDash, Splash by Pin the Tale (about water, naturally) and Push (a must for harassed mums) from Tangled Feet.
The Grand Union Canal has its own new show. This involves a specially adapted heritage workboat as well as the towpath. Tug is the appropriate name for this Dog Kennel Hill Project collaboration with the Palace Theatre and Dance4. Glissssssssssendo opus II comes from Fanfare Le Snob and has a troupe of magnificently clad musicians equipped with instruments quite unlike their usual orchestral counterparts. Airvag is another international offering, by Roule Boule et les Ratatams; it will light up the night sky with gigantic luminous claws.
Claws will also be in evidence with Close-Act Theatre's Saurus. Prepare for the invasion of the dinosaurs! Last year Motionhouse provided Cascade; this year's offeing is Captive, blending dance and aerial work evolving around a large constantly transforming cage. France's Tango Sumo will tower over the High Street as beds become boats or cliffs and Expedition Paddock unfolds.
Other performance groups include Inspector Sands (A High Street Odyssey), Max Calaf's Why Do I Have Wings If I Can't Fly?, Curious Directive's And We Will Play Again?, Sufi dances by Aiya Azazi (Dervish in Progress) and Our Sound, a collaboration between the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Palace Theatre about the adventures of a boy and his clockwork tiger.
At the festival launch, the Palace Theatre's artistic director Brigid Larmour pointed out that last year's Imagine Watford brought an estimated extra £400,000.00 to the town's economy, despite all the events being free ones. Mayor-elect Dorothy Thornhill was emphatic that culture: "however you spell it. with a C, a c or even a K" can transform people's lives within the eight square miles which is Watford.
South-East and East Arts Council director Antonia Byatt said that funding outdoor events such as Imagine Watford had great importance, as did the international element such festival attract. She paid tribute to the Watford Cultural Leaders Group and its imaginative support for investing in the town's cultural variety. This was underlined also by Dan Dark, vice-president and managing director of Warner Brothers' Leavesden Studios, on of this year's principal sponsors; he laid stress on the importance of partnership as well as sponsorship.