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National Theatre River Stage 2017 Preview

London Callng takes a look at the annual free festival on the Southbank.

Now in its third year, the National Theatre’s outdoor River Stage returns for 5 weekends throughout late July and August, with a different arts and culture organisation taking over the stage each weekend. Situated on the Southbank, right next to the National’s Understudy Bar, the free programme includes performance, live music, workshops and classes from the National Theatre themselves, The Glory, HOME Manchester, WOMAD Festival and Rambert.

One of the highlights of the summer, the sheer variety of acts and artists performing on the River Stage ensure there’s something for everyone. We’ve spent some time poring over the line-up to bring you a comprehensive guide to the festivities – from international cabaret stars to all-female jazz collectives via the Bollywood Brass Band and life drawing with a twist.
July 28-30: The Glory takeover
The Glory return to River Stage looking to build on last year’s success. One of Europe’s foremost queer performance venues, the East London gay bar has been hosting parties and drag events, staging gigs and performances, visiting festivals, lending support to Pride events across the UK and generally bringing a touch of glitter to any occasion they grace, since 2014.
Friday night’s APOCALYPSTICK rave sees radical fairies, super queers and fashion freaks open 2017’s programme in style. All-female performance troupe Figs in Wigs grace the stage on Saturday with their Backstreet Boys tribute act, and GLORY LATES present some of the finest cabaret stars in the land – including the incomparable Le Gateaux Chocolat and Glory founders Jonny Woo and John Sizzle. Sunday’s Drag Life Drawing is a family event and has a big circle round it in our diaries.

Image Credit: James Bellorini

August 4-6: HOME, Manchester takeover
Manchester’s HOME has collaborated with a veritable who’s-who of the international theatre scene (Hofesh Shechter, Complicite and 1927 anyone?) since opening in 2015. Now a major part of Manchester’s vibrant theatre scene, HOME’s Artistic Director Walter Meierjohann crosses the North/South divide and brings a wealth of theatre and music with him.
On Friday, legendary Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam will bring the Madchester scene to the Southbank and provide a joyful, varied soundtrack to shake off the working week to. Mighty Heart Theatre will spend Saturday talking to crowds and finding out how people really view Manchester and the North, whilst We Are Ian perform their successful Brighton Fringe show In Bed With My Brother in the evening. Sunday begins with a Vogue workshop before Mighty Heart Theatre present verbatim the results from Saturday’s survey.

Image Credit: James Bellorini
August 11-13: WOMAD Festival takeover
WOMAD – World of Music, Arts and Dance – has been hosting festivals across the globe for 34 years, bringing international artists together in a celebration of creativity. If you aren’t able to make it down to their UK site in Wiltshire in July, then make sure to check out their weekend on the Southbank instead.
Friday night sees Bristol-based DJ Mr Benn bring his bass-heavy mash up of jungle, reggae, hip hop and hi-life to the post-work revellers. Saturday is chock-a-block with great acts: Msafiri Zawose’s five piece band blend tight harmonies with complex melodic structures to create beautiful grooves, the Bollywood Brass Band do exactly what you’d expect - blasting irrepressible horn lines with an Indian tint – and Gypsy Hill’s ‘DJ-meets-tuba with a Mediterranean twist’ is a sure-fire party starter. Sudanese-Italian songstress Amira Kheir provides a sultry Sunday soundtrack to close the weekend.
August 18-20: Rambert takeover
Rambert have been making dance for 90 years now, and know a thing or two about how to programme a good mix of up-and-comers and old masters alike. Bringing dance to the masses is a big part of their mission, and there’s nothing like a weekend long free stage on the Southbank to do just that.
Friday kicks off with Collapse - New Movement Collective’s 2016 collaboration with 3D laser artists ScanLAB Projects – followed by a duet from Simone Damberg Wurtz accompanied by a score that utilises live piano and a 1980s Commodore 64 computer. Saturday and Sunday both see yoga classes and dance workshops in the afternoon, with Saturday culminating in Music from Nia Lynn, a collaboration from the ever-inspiring choreographer Ben Duke and jazz singer Nia Lynn inspired by the sprit of Nina Simone.

Image Credit: James Bellorini
August 25-28: National Theatre
The final weekend begins as the National Theatre host a Friday night performance from the New Orleans-inspired London heroes Hackney Colliery Band. On Saturday the wonderful Little Bulb Theatre perform as an 8-piece gypsy band – based on arrangements taken from their hit show Orpheus – before Dom Search, DJ with party outfit The Nextmen, brings the night to a close. Sunday sees a live screening of the National’s recent production of Twelfth Night, starring Tamsin Grieg as Malvolia, before bank holiday Monday rounds the festival off with a live performance by all-female jazz septet Nérija – a must-see group of inspiring musicians.
The National Theatre’s River Stage Festival runs from July 28 – August 28 on the Southbank. All events are free.