Review: Poltimore Festival 2018

Poltimore Festival 2018, the annual arts and music festival held just outside of Exeter, celebrated its eighth birthday with its most successful event to date at the eponymous aristocratic house on Sunday 27th May. All funds raised from the day, including ticket sales and 30% of the profit from the catering stalls, went towards The Poltimore House Trust whose aim is to renovate the crumbling house which holds an important place in Devon’s culture. The artsy setting of Poltimore House and its extensive grounds matched the diverse artistic talent; guests were treated to a program which featured everything from cutting edge theatre and film, to spoken word and music, often provided by Exeter’s own students. A very different affair to Hijacked, the student-centred music festival which took place a few days later, Poltimore represents a gathering opportunity for both students and local families subverting the disconnect which we, unfortunately, all too often witness between students and the larger Exeter community.

As the day warmed up, the crowd in front of the main stage steadily grew. Whilst students took to the grassy dance floor, families settled themselves onto picnic blankets to enjoy the music, the delightful array of food and drink, and the beautiful scenery that is the Devonshire countryside. The Garden Stage featured a lineup of larger bands with wide-ranging genres, including the Exeter University Soul Choir, the Martyn Crocker Band, Psychopomp (last year’s Battle of the Bands winners), Ciaran Austin and Cantaloupe Island (spotlighted by BBC introducing in Devon), Clara Bond (whose stunning voice earned her a nomination for Female Vocalist of the Year at the British Country Music Awards), Pattern Pusher (a particular crowd favourite), Tors, and the headline London band, Flyte, who did not fail to disappoint, fresh from their gig in Amsterdam.

Yet the festival was not limited to the main stage; those who ventured into the woods would find the spoken word poets in full swing, and inside Poltimore House itself the Chapel Stage hosted regular theatrical performances. The Courtyard Stage, an intimate stage with the appearance of both and inside and outside space, was the perfect spot to enjoy acoustic music, and the Women In Film set was equally cozy, tucked away towards the rear of the house. Guests also couldn’t help but admire the artwork lining the walls as they walked from room to room, as well as the decorations scattered across the house grounds, including recycled plastic bottle spirals which decorated the trees. Other activities and attractions included a children’s bouncy castle, the opportunity to learn about and meet guide dogs, a site in the woods for yoga, and slacklining.

In the Spoken Word area, the standout act of the day was Tom Moodey, currently working on a Creative Writing Masters at Exeter University. His prose was sharply observant, brutal in its coldly honest exploration of everyday events and communication. His poetry was at times romantic, at others filled with angst, and at others wittily exposing society’s quirks and foibles from his youthful perspective. Inspired by beat and mid-twentieth century American performance poets, Moodey gathered a large, enraptured crowd to the small forested performance area, and interacted playfully with them, engaging the audience with his down-to-earth style and perceptive, passionate wordplay. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, an incredible art exhibition by local painters, photographers and sculptors was on show in the dilapidated Poltimore House. Showcasing the region’s talent, the exhibition was haunting, offering layers of social commentary with tremendous skill. Psychedelic electronic music by the unique Exeter talent Delmer Darion played eerily behind the artwork adding to its moving, trancelike feel. Another memorable moment from the day took place in the theatre building, with an astonishingly original piece of puppet theatre. The way the piece combined mythological neoclassicism with pop culture to create a new piece of timeless storytelling was astonishing. Very avant-garde, and fused with pop music remixes in the background, the piece was strange and alluring, fearlessly challenging accepted notions of theatricality and storytelling.

As the day progressed, the sun shone brighter and the overriding atmosphere of the festival was one of pure ease. An end-of-exam feel combined with a family-day-out dynamic, creating an at times rowdy and at times tame, and altogether wonderful summer day out at a stunning venue. A festival to return to, showcasing incredible local talent, Poltimore is a unique way of experiencing up-and-coming music, theatre, art and literature, and is indisputably one of Exeter’s finest artistic offerings.


Laura Leichtfried and Katie Rivers


Featured image source.

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