Festival of arts kicks off with comedy acts

AN INDEPENDENT arts festival which teases out talent in the Bury St Edmunds area began with giggles galore on Saturday night.

This year’s Bury Fringe festival – which is separate from the Bury St Edmunds Festival – kicked off with a stand-up comedy open mic night followed by a home-coming gig by top comedian Kate Smurthwaite.

Held at Benson Blakes bar and grill in St John’s Street, nine brave acts faced the packed audience – some for their first time ever – armed with their material.

Mrs Smurthwaite, host and compere for the night, then took centre stage herself, treating the crowd to a taste of her latest Edinburgh show.

As well as featuring high-brow political satire, she intertwined funny tales from her career and the local area.

The 35-year-old, who grew up in Little Whelnetham and attended St James Middle School followed by Thurston, takes part in TV and radio interviews (being known for the odd controversial comment), writes, teaches stand-up and gigs six nights a week.

Claire Lowe, who runs the festival, said the first night had gone “absolutely brilliantly”.

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She said: “I couldn’t have asked for a better start with two sell-out shows. The room was packed. We couldn’t have got an extra person in for the first half of it.

“I’m really, really happy and I think that just goes to show people that they need to get their tickets now.”

She said she knew Mrs Smurthwaite, now from London, from school so it was “fantastic” to see an old friend doing so well professionally in the arts. “It’s lovely for her to come back to Bury as a very successful comedian and comedy writer,” she said.

“And what more fitting start for Bury Fringe than having someone that talented, who originates from the town, coming back and launching it for us.

“It shows just because you are from Bury, it doesn’t mean you cannot achieve big things.”

She added how the open mic novices had really impressed her, which was what Bury Fringe was all about.

“It’s all about celebrating the talent we have in the area. It’s about bringing talent from outside the area to Bury,” Mrs Lowe said.

Helping to found the festival in 2006, she took it on single-handedly in 2009. Lasting for two weeks, it features art, music, plays and more.

“It may take 25 years, but if Bury Fringe turns into an arts festival the equivalent of Edinburgh Fringe, then I’m not going to complain,” Mrs Lowe said.

Sarah Stamp, who does the publicity for the festival, said there was something for everyone and shows were either free or reasonably priced.

For the full Bury Fringe programme visit www.buryfringe.com.

Today from 11am there is a free Artheads open event at Benson Blakes.