Declaration of Arbroath anniversary festival to transform historic town this summer

A festival marking the 701st anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath is expected to be one of the first major events to go ahead in Scotland under the country’s route map out of lockdown.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 11:59 pm
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 7:25 am

More than 30 different cultural and heritage elements will be staged in the historic Angus town and surrounding areas between July and September.

The Declaration of Arbroath-inspired festival, which the Scottish Government is helping to fund, is being held a year later than originally envisaged due to the pandemic.

Organisers had to abandon all in-person celebrations to mark the anniversary of a letter sent to Pope John XXII on 6 April 1320 signed by more than 40 Scottish noblemen and knights. It called for recognition of Robert the Bruce as rightful King of Scots, and freedom from English claims of sovereignty over Scotland.

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The festival, which has secured £232,000 in public funding, has been revived and revamped for this year, with the eventual line-up expected to evolve further in line with the latest government regulations on social distancing and live events, which are expected to restart from the middle of May under the goverment’s timetable.

The dunes of Lunan Bay will be playing host to a spectacular sound and visual show being masterminded by Angus Farquhar, the artist and producer behind events staged on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Glen Lyon in Perthshire and the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye. Leading musicians and composers from around the world are expected to work on the soundtrack for the show.

Arbroath’s streets are expected to be transformed by specially-created works of art, including new flags designed by the Dundee Print Collective in collaboration with the local community, and visual art trails through the town.

Performances of music, storytelling, song and dance are expected to be staged outdoors in Abroath while a series of outdoor sculptures will be revealed in the grounds of Hospitalfield arts centre.

Pippa Martin, creative director of the festival and outdoor adventurer Kevin Meldrum above The Needle's Eye at Seaton near Arbroath.

The town’s residents are being sent hundreds of “art packs” to encourage them to decorate their windows during the festival, “wool warriors” will be tasked with helping to create a giant knitted unicorn and dog owners and be asked to dress their pets up for their own colourful pageant.

Arbroath Abbey’s visitor centre will be playing host to a tapestry created to mark the anniversary by artist Andrew Crummy, who is best known for his work on The Great Tapestry of Scotland.

Pippa Martin, creative director of the festival, said: “Staying connected, celebrating our communities and reflecting and looking forward feels more important now than ever.

“We’re delighted to have been able to adapt the 2020 programme and return with a rich mix of community led projects and exhibitions alongside exciting new commissions.”

A new tapestry commemorating the Declaration of Arbroath will be going on display as part of the festival. Picture: Pippa Martin

Angus Farquhar said of Over Lunan: “Lunan Bay is one of the most resonant coastal landscapes in Britain and the perfect site to explore a mythical story of flood rise and animistic ritual.”

Meanwhile Perthshire has received a huge boost after Pitlochry Festival Theatre announced plans to create a new 80-seater amphitheatre in its grounds to help stage a dedicated programme of outdoor shows between June and September.

Highlights of its drama programme include a brand new version of the classic gothic tale Jekyll and Hyde, which will be adapted by playwright Hannah Lavery from the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, a promenade production by Jo Clifford and Lesley Orr which will mourn and celebrate the lives of those lost during the pandemic, and a new version of Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s much-loved children’s tale.

Elizabeth Newman, artistic director of Pitlochry Festival Theatre, said its outdoor summer season would be a fitting way to mark the venue’s 70th anniversary.

Over Lunan will be held in the dunes of Lunan Bay in Angus in September as part of the Declaration of Arbroath festival. Picture: Ruari Cormack

She added: “We know our amazing audiences have missed being in-person and experiencing live theatre ‘in-the-flesh’.

"We have said, as soon as possible, we would be back in person and, although we couldn’t produce our summer season as previously planned, I feel extraordinarily excited to share this Outdoor season with audiences, especially for our big birthday.

"I hope it channels the same unstoppable spirit that first made Pitlochry Festival Theatre extraordinary 70 years ago when John Stewart first put up the theatre-tent.

"We can’t wait to bring people together to celebrate our beautiful Perthshire landscape, celebrate Scottish Talent, art, and theatre, and of course a sense of coming together after such a long period of being apart.”

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The Dundee Print Collective were commissioned to design a series of flags which will be flown around Arbroath during the festival.

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The Declaration of Arbroath festival will run between July and September of this year. Picture: Santiago Arribas
Pitlochry Festival Theatre has revealed plans for a four-month season of outdoor shows this summer.