Huge performance festival returns to Preston this autumn with series of free shows

Posted on - 14th June, 2024 - 6:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Arts, Preston News, South Ribble News, Things to Do in and around Preston, What's On in Preston
Phoebe Foxtrot at a previous Lancashire Fringe Festival Pic: Garry Cook
Phoebe Foxtrot at a previous Lancashire Fringe Festival Pic: Garry Cook

A huge performance festival returns to Preston this autumn with a series of free shows featuring some of the best theatre and performance shows in the UK.

Lancashire Fringe Festival will run over several weeks with a series of comedy, theatre, spoken word and contemporary performance shows hosted at multiple venues across the city.

The festival has already established a reputation as one of the UK’s most important performance festivals, giving performers an opportunity to bring their shows to Preston while also commissioning new work.

First launched as a two-day festival at Ham and Jam Coffee Shop in 2016, Lancashire Fringe Festival has grown into a major festival on the performance circuit, attracting performers and shows from across the world.

The festival has platformed over 80 performances and commissioned 25 new pieces or work. Over a dozen shows who have come to the festival have gone on to tour the UK and appear at Edinburgh Fringe.

The previous festival in 2022 attracted huge audiences over its five-week run, with 32 individual performances including the hugely successful Big Festival Saturday – a series of outdoor performances built around a tour of the city.

The festival has been instrumental in helping Preston develop a cult-status within the performance industry, with many performers now specifically targeting Preston as a destination. 

This year, the autumn festival will include several new commissions, which will be performed at community venues across the city. There are three festival call-outs: one for performers, one to develop new work by Lancashire-based performers and one offering career development surgeries for Preston-based creatives.

Lancashire People’s Theatre, whose monologues are written by local writers and performed by local actors, have enjoyed 100+ sell-out crowds at the last two festivals. They will once again produce new work, and tour it across the city and in South Ribble. 

Janelle Thompson, who has performed a monologue in both the 2019 and 2022 festival, is currently starring in a TV ad for Tesco Mobile.

Janelle Thompson performing at Lancashire Fringe Festival Pic: Garry Cook
Janelle Thompson on stage at Lancashire Fringe Festival Pic: Garry Cook

There are also plans for a guided performance independent pub tour.

Festival creator Garry Cook said: “In a city that is struggling to engage with arts and culture, I’m delighted that Lancashire Fringe Festival is returning.

“The festival’s main aim is to entertain the people of Preston, and the shows will be some of the most unforgettable, brilliant and funny performances. I want people who don’t usually come and see live performance to come to the shows – if that’s you, come and join in. 

“Thanks to funding by Arts Council England, the shows are all free. This is very unusual but it means that the people of Preston have a unique opportunity to experience some of these stunning shows and be actively involved in the development of arts and culture within the city.

“The audience feedback for the previous festival has been amazing. The festival has deliver some hugely memorable nights. It is that kind of once-in-a-lifetime unforgettable experience that we aim to deliver again.

“It is more important than ever that Preston gets a load of shows. Because the city has no arts centre and only one working theatre space – where most other towns and cities in the regions have at least four theatre spaces – audience numbers for live theatre and performances have crashed.

“This festival is specifically aimed to address that problem with two targets: to put on a load of brilliant free shows and persuade people to turn up and see them.”

Opinion: Lack of arts venues is leaving the people of Preston without cultural engagement

As part of this new audience target, the festival will also fund a series of performances with discounted ticket prices in the 12 months after the festival, to ensure Preston audiences continue to have a thriving theatre programme.

The festival will take place between the end of September and into October this year. Other events and opportunities to take part will be announced in the build up to the festival

Lancashire Briefs by Lancashire People's Theatre at the Continental during the last Lancashire Fringe Festival Pic: Garry Cook
Lancashire Briefs by Lancashire People’s Theatre at the Continental during the last Lancashire Fringe Festival Pic: Garry Cook

Cook added: “As always, the festival is a hugely collaborative project. I rely massively on the willingness of a number of independent venues to be able to put on these shows – and it’s the managers of those venues who make this festival possible. 

“And of course the festival does not work without an audience. Over the past few years I’ve worked really hard to engage with audiences and find out what shows they want to see. They have responded by turning up.

“During the last festival, some of the touring shows that came to Preston had the biggest audiences of their tour in the city, at venues like The Continental, Vinyl Tap, The Stanley Arms, UCLan and The Ferret. This is amazing when you realise that some of these other venues are major funded venues is some big towns and cities.

“It’s a lovely feeling seeing new faces comes to shows, and it is also really cool when you see some people come to shows night after night after night. Some people actually come to every single show in the festival. This audience connection is hugely important to me and the festival. It is why Preston has developed its cult reputation for these edgy, Edinburgh Fringe-style shows. 

“I’m really looking forward to welcoming a whole new audience to the festival this year so please keep an eye out for the show announcements and come along and see some of the best shows the UK has to offer, right here in Preston city!”

If you are a Lancashire-based performer, you could be performing at the festival this autumn. Full details of the call-outs can be found on the Enjoy the Show website.

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This story was made possible by support from you, our readers, and a host of organisations in the city, through our Crowdfund Lancashire appeal, which unlocked support from the Lancashire Culture and Sport Fund provided by Lancashire County Council. You can see all our coverage and, if you know of an arts project or event in the city we should be covering, send details to

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