From passionate Latin dance to glorious classical music, rib-tickling comedians to the magic of live theatre, street parades to picnics on the cathedral lawn, Lichfield Festival has it all this summer.  Taking place between 4 and 14 July in the beautiful Staffordshire city, Lichfield has built a strong reputation as one of the country’s best and most vibrant multi-arts festivals.  This year is set to be bigger and better than ever with specially-created shows, resident performers and new work featuring through music, dance, theatre, literature and family events.

“It has been a great privilege to be entrusted with the artistic planning of this year’s 37th Lichfield Festival,” says Guest Artistic Director, Damian Thantrey.  “Within Lichfield’s trademark eclectic mix of classical music, folk, jazz, comedy, dance and theatre, we’re particularly delighted to have woven into the Festival a season of events to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage - #ExtraordinaryWomen - which will celebrate the craft of female writers, artists and composers, as well as works written specifically with a woman’s voice in mind.”

The opening Cathedral event (Friday 5 July) is an exclusive show from World Champion Latin dancers and Strictly Come Dancing stars Neil and Katya Jones. Designed especially for Lichfield Cathedral, Somnium – A Dancer’s Dream, is based on Neil and Katya’s own story and features exciting choreography, music and a company of internationally-renowned dancers.

Headline performers include the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, restaurant critic and jazz musician Jay Rayner, comedians Tom Allen and Mark Steel, Fascinating Aida’s Liza Pulman and return visits from the hugely popular Malachites Theatre Company and Ballet Cymru.  A theme of Extraordinary Women weaves throughout the Festival while community and family events include the ever-popular Festival Market and Britten’s children’s opera Noye’s Fludde coupled with Holst’s The Planets, preceded by a street parade of giant animal puppets.

Among music highlights are BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year 2017, Kris Drever with Gaelic songstress Julie Fowlis, a celebration of women in jazz from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and exciting young trumpeter/composer Yazz Ahmed, and Afro-Cuban dance grooves from Son Yambu.  Innovative vocal ensemble The Cardinall’s Musick perform pieces from the Renaissance to the present day, and a world premiere from composer Nico Muhly features in a concert by baroque ensemble La Nuova Musica and world-renowned soprano Lucy Crowe. There are six Artists in Residence – Danny Driver (piano), the Carducci Quartet, Matthew Hunt (clarinet) Joo Yeon Sir (violin) and Jessica Walker (voice) and Joseph Atkins (piano) – who perform individually and collectively across the whole Festival.

The first Festival event (Thursday 4 July) is a poignant reminder of the contributions of ethnic minority soldiers during the First World War.  Performed in an outdoor setting at the National Memorial Arboretum, Trench Brothers features MOBO-nominated jazz singer Cleveland Watkiss, professional performers and 120 local schoolchildren.

The #ExtraordinaryWomen series includes a look at female pioneers, famous and forgotten names and events inspired by the women’s suffrage movement, such as the Malachites Theatre Company’s reworking of the Taming of the Shrew.  Judith Weir, the first female Master of the Queen’s Music, discusses her life and career, we’ll learn about the distinctive voices of women such as Margaret Thatcher and Marilyn Monroe and a one-woman show investigates the tale of Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance.  Fascinating Aida singer, Liza Pulman and her band pay homage to Barbra Streisand in her critically-acclaimed show Liza Sings Streisand, and two of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads are given a new production for Lichfield directed by Artist in Residence Jessica Walker.

Jessica Walker and pianist Joseph Atkins feature in several of the #ExtraordinaryWomen events: Soldiers, Sirens and Suffragettes is a 21st century cabaret celebrating girl power through song; A Century of Popular Song travels from the Victorian era to the Swinging 60s; and Pat Kirkwood is Angry, written by and starring Jessica Walker, charts the story of one of Britain’s greatest, now almost forgotten, wartime variety stars.

Among concerts featuring Artists in Residence, a celebration of Bernstein & Gershwin brings five of them together for a unique show of classics, new arrangements and a specially-commissioned West Side Story medley to mark Leonard Bernstein’s centenary.  Pianist Danny Driver performs Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the concert also includes the world premiere of a comic overture by Thomas Hyde inspired by the antics of comedian Les Dawson.  Joo Yeon Sir plays Paganini’s complete 24 Caprices in two recitals and, in a bespoke Festival event, joins specialist fine instrument auctioneer, Tim Ingles, for a fascinating insight into his career illustrated with live music performed on a selection of rare violins.

The Carduccis give four chamber music concerts featuring music from the minimalist composers Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass to Haydn, Shostakovich and Piazzolla as well as the European premiere of The Opium Eaters by Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade.  Cruttwell-Reade is this year’s Featured Composer and her music can also be heard in recitals by violinist Joo Yeon Sir and horn player Ben Goldscheider.  Vocal quartet, The Agnes Collective, include the premiere of a new work by her in their programme inspired by Mother Nature.

One of the UK’s finest orchestras, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra gives the Cathedral’s Saturday night concert.  Under their former Principal Guest Conductor, Edward Gardner, they’ll play Schubert’s Fifth and Eighth (Unfinished) symphonies, alongside music by Richard Strauss and a Mendelssohn rarity, Athalie.

On the stage, there are thrillers and chillers with a glimpse into the macabre world of nineteenth century science through Frankenstein 1899 and gripping story-telling and the magic of live theatre in a one-man show of H G Wells’s The Time Machine.

Restaurant critic Jay Rayner recounts some of his worst restaurant reviews in My Dining Hell and, the same evening, joins his colleagues as pianist with the Jay Rayner Jazz Quartet who play a food and drink-inspired gig, peppered with anecdotes from his childhood.

Lichfield Festival boasts some of the best events for the whole family.  The ever-popular Festival Market with its stalls, crafts, entertainment and activities remains a classic day out.  The opening Saturday also includes an Animal Parade of giant puppets, created by community groups, which will process through the city accompanied by music from local performers.  The evening continues with a family concert of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and Holst’s The Planets featuring local schoolchildren and Chetham’s School Symphony Orchestra.

Young children will love The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark which combines story-telling and puppetry, while older ones will enjoy the musical comedy, the Ministry of Biscuits.  Hansel and Gretel (for ages 12+) features musicians, an actor-storyteller, shadow-play and projected puppetry to create a dark world of mystery and murder, and the finest classical ballet and circus elements combine for Ballet Cymru’s beautiful Cinderella.

With film showings, a host of literary and other talks, the annual Peace Lecture given by Rev Lucy Willett, history walks, pop up performances in unusual spaces, and a daytime recital series introducing some of the best new talent around, Lichfield Festival remains as imaginative and extensive as ever.

Roll on summer!