Selby Arts Festival

Rugby and theatre collide at a new festival that’s aiming to bring international quality arts to the north Yorkshire town of Selby

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Rugby and theatre are two interests that tend not to go hand in hand. While rugby union fans are often stereotyped as boisterous and burly, theatregoers are generally considered to be more at home in a library than on a field.

The worlds of sport and drama do not often collide, but theatre company Slung Low hopes to establish common ground between the two with its play Rugby Songs.

Delving into the origin of some of the world’s most celebrated rugby union anthems, Rugby Songs explains the history behind songs such as Swing Low, Sweet Chariot while exploring the importance of the sport’s most famous moments.

“The story is about all sorts of things: it’s about Nelson Mandela, the IRA. And that’s our shared history – not just rugby fans. And if you are into rugby then of course it’s exciting because the thing you love most in the world is being played out in front of you,” says Slung Low’s artistic director Alan Lane.

Lane worked with Midsomer Murders writer Lisa Holdsworth to create a show that could connect with those who do not usually count the theatre among their hobbies. “Lisa did lots of research into different songs and explains the history behind them,” says Lane.

“She then uses the songs as a gateway to those really iconic moments in history such as the South African World Cup and various moments in the troubled history between England and Ireland. Lisa has really unlocked the historical importance in rugby.

“We have performed in rugby clubs to people who wouldn’t necessarily go to the theatre – their interest is obviously rugby. Finding a common ground where people who aren’t that into rugby and people who aren’t that into theatre can come together to watch something and get excited about it is great.”

The play will be performed at Selby Rugby Club as part of the town’s new arts festival, which launches this year.

Festival director David Edmunds says he is committed to bringing high quality arts and culture to areas outside big cities. He says: “There’s a danger across the country that our culture is very city focused, and if you want to engage in high quality culture you’ve got to travel.

“We found that lots of people in Selby travel to arts and culture events in Leeds, York, Harrogate and Manchester, because that’s where the points of access are. It was something we wanted to change. Our ethos is that there should access to great art for everybody.”

Also on the line-up is folk singer Seth Lakeman, comedian Ed Byrne and indie-folk band Patch and the Giant.

“We have deliberately not chosen local artists,” says Edmunds. “There are lots of little pop-up festivals that happen across the district already, which are all brilliant for the community and for showcasing amateur bands, but what we wanted to do was bring in high quality, professional artists from across the UK and internationally. We hope it will be truly memorable, and we hope it will be inspirational to people in the town.”

Selby Arts Festival is on 22-30 July. For more information visit

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