©PraxisDesign 2012

©PraxisDesign 2012

Rochester returns to its Victorian glory during the weekend of Friday 31 May to Sunday 2 June, as the annual Dickens Festival lights up the streets with colourful costumed characters, street theatre, music and dancing. Held every year since 1978, the event celebrates Medway’s many associations with the great author, who drew many of his characters and settings for his novels from the years he lived in the area.

Around 60,000 visitors are expected over the three days, when colourful costumed characters will parade through the High Street every day, from the well heeled to the humble street urchin, and street entertainers regale visitors with Victorian drama, from games of chance to street scuffles, flower sellers and peelers pounding the streets to keep law and order. A new feature has been added to this year’s festival to commemorate the fact that Dickens was born during the time of the Napoleonic wars and how the events of the time fired the young author’s imagination. The 4th Battalion Royal Foot Artillery will take part in parades through the streets and will have an encampment in the moat of Rochester Castle. There will be demonstrations in the moat throughout the weekend and the gunners will be on hand to answer visitors’ questions. And on Saturday evening there will be a special performance of The Trials and Tribulations of Mr Pickwick at the Corn Exchange. The highly acclaimed one-man comedy show tells how through various misunderstandings Mr Pickwick finds himself in the debtor’s prison, meeting some of Dickens’ most vivid and eccentric characters on the way.

Younger visitors can hoop the hoopla with Pip, scatter skittles with Scrooge and delight in the antics of Punch and Judy alongside Oliver Twist at the Guildhall Museum’s forecourt. It’s all part of Dickensian Family Fun, an interactive Victorian fair presented by Play on Words Theatre and the Brook Youth Theatre. And the Castle Gardens will be transformed in to traditional fun fair and craft fair, which will be bigger than ever before with stalls selling handmade gifts, children’s clothes, jewellery, china, preserves and much more.

Visitors can also climb onboard The Edith May sailing barge moored at the Esplanade, and take an hour-long trip from Rochester Pier to sample life from the age of sail. For those dressing up for the occasion, there will be several costume competitions throughout the festival with categories for all age groups. Cllr. Howard Doe, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services said: “We’re very proud that so many places in Medway inspired one of the greatest writers of all time, and that, more than thirty years on, the Rochester Dickens Festival still attracts many thousands of visitors from all over the country and around the world.

“Each year we aim to bring in some exciting new features as well as all the traditional favourites, and many events are free. So I hope everyone will come along and take part in this wonderful three days of celebration”. For further information and to download a brochure visit http://www.whatsonmedway.co.uk Tickets for the Saturday night performance cost £10 with concessions available, and can be obtained from http://www.medwayticketslive.co.uk, by phone on 01634 338338 or in person from Medway Visitor Information Centre.