Wanstead: centre stage

IMG_1340John Petters and the New Orleans All Stars performed in St Mary’s Church in 2019

In a year when everyone wants to get back to normal, Giles Wilson, chair of the Wanstead Fringe, explains his hopes for September, when the theatre, music, comedy and cultural events will hopefully return

The high point of the Wanstead Fringe for me comes at an unexpected moment. It’s not during the open-air Kinema, or at the jumble trail, or even at a theatrical production. No, the memorable moment comes when there are two or three events taking place simultaneously and I am flitting from one to another to see if everything is going OK.

The last time we held a Fringe, in pre-pandemic 2019, it happened when, having been at a masterclass at La Bakerie, I went to Wanstead Golf Club to check on the live comedy night.

Seeing that our comedy impresario John Fentiman had everything as under control as stand-up nights ever are, I slipped out to go to St Mary’s Church which, for the first time, was hosting a Fringe event. Jazz ensemble John Petters and the New Orleans All Stars were to play inside this most unlikeliest of venues – Dixieland jazz spirituals inside an exquisitely genteel 18th-century building, which is more accustomed to hosting period TV dramas.

But as I walked towards the church, with the voices of a comedy audience still fresh in my ears, the sounds of clarinet, trumpet, double bass, drums and more wafted through the leaded windows into the dusk. That, for me, was the moment of Fringe 2019 – magnificently different cultural events, sprinkled all around, acting together to transform Wanstead.

Fringe 2020? Forget it, it didn’t happen.

But earlier in the spring, the group of Wanstead residents who each year come together to get the Fringe going had a Zoom call and were of one mind: if it can be done safely, we need a Fringe in 2021.

We realised things might not be the same – no one knows what the Covid situation will be in September. But we knew we should try, and our friends at Redbridge Vision Culture and Leisure were taking a similar approach to the Wanstead Festival.

This will be the eighth Fringe – all without a penny of public money. Our patrons at Petty Son and Prestwich, Edwards Duthie Shamash solicitors and THP Accountants have kept us on the road, as have the squad of event organisers and event attendees.

Which is why I’m writing now. Have you got a cultural event inside you, desperate to break free and become part of the Wanstead Fringe? Can you help create an unexpected moment of magic? Can you help transform Wanstead into a home for culture? If you can, please get in touch with us. You’ll be among friends.

Wanstead Fringe 2021 is scheduled to take place between 3 and 19 September. For more information and to take part, visit wansteadfringe.org