LOVED as a celebration of captivating performance, the Oxford Festival of the Arts this year launched its eclectic programme by showcasing a startling spectacle with neither an actor nor musician in sight.

A spellbinding display of light and sound transformed the city’s University Church of St Mary the Virgin with stunning projections, leaving visitors entranced by the hypnotic sensory feast. 

The Luxmuralis installation was a suitably dramatic opener to a bill which offers a galaxy of artistic offerings – with music from classical to contemporary, drama from opera to cutting edge cabaret, comedy from big name standup acts, and new work by emerging artists.

“Oxford Festival of the Arts is off to a terrific start with hundreds of people already through the doors,” says Festival Director, musical-historian and respected polymath Dr Michelle Castelletti.

Oxford Mail: St Mary's Church Renaissance themed light display


“‘Epic’ is the word on the street!” she smiles. 

The festival, which runs through to July 16, was founded by Magdalen College School which is still its lead sponsor and host venue to many shows.

The festival opened its official hub and bar in the gorgeous Magdalen College School rose garden this weekend and leapt off to a high octane start with some extraordinary events.

Oxford Mail: Christ Church Choir. Picture by Ian Wallman

Christ Church Choir. Picture by Ian Wallman

In a treat for fans of Killing Eve, Downton Abbey, Succession, The Crown, and Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre goers, it saw Dame Harriet Walter in conversation with theatre director John Caird on Friday.

Then - in a dramatic change of pace - it played host to social media sensation and Chortle Award-winner Rosie Holt on Saturday with an hour of comedy based on her smash-hit satirical videos, seen millions of times online. Expect amusing depictions of an opinionated right-winger distorting the news, an MP.

Sunday, July 2, sees the first of a triptych of Sunday Afternoon Recitals at 2.30pm with younger artists – the stars of the new generation already performing with major orchestras and in concert halls around the world. They play the festival in collaboration with Trinity College, Oxford.

There will be a double bill of comedy in the Festival Marquee on Monday, July 3, with actress, comedian, impressionist and writer Ronni Ancona joining forces with film and television star Sally Phillips.

“They have been once told that their chemistry together on stage was amazing, and they ought to do a double-act,” says Dr Castelletti.

Oxford Mail: Ronni Ancona

Roni Ancona

“Two problems: they are endlessly distracted and they don’t like each other much. This is the first and last performance of a show of an idea for a show they had when they were supposed to be doing other things.”

For something more ethereal, the Choirs of Christ Church, Magdalen College and New College, Oxford, come together on Thursday, July 6, for a programme of music marking the 400th anniversary of the death of William Byrd along with celebrated Tudor composer Thomas Weelkes.

It will conclude with the monumental 40-part motet, Spem in alium, by Byrd’s teacher and mentor, Thomas Tallis.

The festival goes to Dorchester Abbey on Wednesday, July 5, for a performance by Oxford’s world-class early music ensemble The Instruments of Time and Truth, under the baton of the respected Edward Higginbottom (former organist and choirmaster of New College, and father of acclaimed electronic music producer, performer and DJ, Orlando – who performs under the moniker 'Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs'). 

It also features soloist Bojan Čičić.

Oxford Mail: Charles, Earl Spencer
Charles, Earl Spencer 

The evening is a thrilling opportunity to experience Paris’s 18th century Concert Spirituel – one of the world’s first public concert series. The programme will include works by François Joseph Gossec and Jean-Baptiste Davaux. It will culminate in Mozart’s aptly-named Paris Symphony and one of Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ violin concertos whose incredible life story was depicted in the American biographical drama Chevalier.

Charles, Earl Spencer – author and historian, and of course, brother to the late Diana, Princess of Wales – visits on Tuesday, July 4.

He will be in conversation with Dinah Rose KC, President of Magdalen College, where Charles was a student during his time at Oxford.

Film buffs will be treated to a rare screening of the remarkable 1922 silent film Salomé, with live improvised organ accompaniment in the dramatic setting of the antechapel of Magdalen College next Wednesday, July 9.

“Across history, humanity has always created memories and searched for things to commemorate,” says Dr Castelletti.

Oxford Mail: Salome

“This year is packed with possibilities. It is always about the people. It is about us – our stories – our histories. I hope that  will bring you enjoyment, laughter, enrichment, moments of reflection, and, above all, a sense of community, helping you make your own connections, your own anniversary commemorations, your own stories.

“Oxford is your city and this is your festival. It is a joy to present this year’s edition of Oxford Festival of the Arts to you.”

Oxford Mail:
Dr Michelle Castelletti. Picture by Ed Nix

Master of Magdalen College School, Helen Pike said: “The Oxford Festival of the Arts has been delighting audiences for well over a decade now, and is established both as a major source of entertainment and community engagement in Oxford.

"With a range of events including internationally-renowned authors and musicians, film, dance, and song, the festival is a celebration of the people, history and stories which have created our city and our world.

“We aim to provide something to divert and delight everyone. I look forward to welcoming you this summer.” 

  • Tickets for all events are available from the Oxford Playhouse, Beaumont Street in person, by calling 01865 305305, or online at