Back in 1951, London’s South Bank was home to the largest celebration of British culture the 20th century had seen: The Festival of Britain. This year, the thriving arts complex that consequently grew up on the site is to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the landmark event.
Over four months, from 22 April to 4 September, themed weekends, performances, talks and events will pay homage to the 1951 festival. Designed to help raise the nation’s sprits and celebrate its recovery after World War II, as well as mark the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition, the original festival took place across the UK, with London the main hub for events. This season’s celebrations take place exclusively at the Southbank Centre.
Themes taken from 1951’s events – People of Britain, Land of Britain, Sea and Ships and Power and Production – will shape four outdoor ‘lands’, featuring everything from commissioned artworks and performances to fairground rides and places to eat and drink.
The Royal Festival Hall, built for the original celebrations and one of the few festival buildings not to be demolished, will be the backdrop to concerts from the London Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras, the London Sinfonietta, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with Sir Simon Rattle.
Opportunities to get involved are plentiful. Young pianists are invited to audition for a chance to perform with pianist Lang Lang at the end of his four-day residency on 22 May, while singers can take part in a chorus weekend with a Massive Messiah – a large-scale performance of Handel’s work – at its heart.
‘The 1951 Festival of Britain was a landmark, visited by millions,’ says Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, ‘and its legacy and influence continues to live on.’
Ngalula Beatrice Kabutakapua