The stuff of nightmares has been a long held dream for the departing artistic director of Lichfield Festival, Fiona Stuart.

And this year that dream has finally come true, according to festival manager Jennifer Mears.

“There is one company, Igudesman & Joo, that Fiona has been trying to get for the past four years,” says Jennifer.

“They are from America and they are a classical music duo with a quirky twist.

“Their show is A Little Nightmare Music. Performers have nightmares before they go on about not having their costume and not knowing their music, and they basically put that on stage.

“They have been edging their way up Fiona’s wish list and for her final programme she managed to get them. They don’t normally do UK festivals at all so this is one of the first.”

A combination of the classical and the comedic, this double act and YouTube sensation are a nutshell version of what the 33-year-old festival has become.

It started out as a concert series in Lichfield Cathedral back at the start of the 80s and still has that at its core.

Courtney Pine Julia Wesely will appear at the Lichfield Festival
Courtney Pine Julia Wesely will appear at the Lichfield Festival
 

However, as it has grown, new strands have been added such as comedy and theatre and family events, creating a diverse programme designed to draw in audiences of all ages and with tastes for different forms of entertainment.

The hope is that those who come for the comedy might then discover the classical offerings and vice versa.

“One thing that we are very aware of is we have to keep finding new audiences,” explains Jennifer.

“That will come from catering to different tastes and catering to the younger generation as well.

“We are finding that slowly the core audience are branching out.

“We try and programme it so there is a contrast in each evening so that all audiences are catered for.”

The festival runs from July 4-13 and is expected to attract more than 50,000 visitors.

Among the headliners this year are Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, The BBC Philharmonic (who are on the final Saturday), The Sixteen (a world renowned ensemble comprising both choir and period-instrument orchestra), stand up Miles Jupp, The John Wilson Orchestra, writers Ruth Rendell and Charlie Higson, cabaret act Fascinating Aida, Gandini Juggling, jazz singer Clare Teal and saxophonist Courtney Pine.

Luke Kempner in The Only Way is Downton will appear at the Lichfield Festival
Luke Kempner in The Only Way is Downton will appear at the Lichfield Festival

“We have also got a show that has sold out in London, The Only Way Is Downton. It is on its way to Edinburgh,” says Jennifer.

Edinburgh is probably the ultimate in summer festivals. Its Festival Fringe is reportedly the biggest event of its kind in the world.

“We would love to be like that, with things going on all over the place,” Jennifer admits.

“But I think we might be the only multi-arts festival on this scale in the Midlands.”

It could not be accomplished without backing from local residents who provide everything from venues to accommodation to sponsorship.

“We have the two main venues which are the Cathedral and the Garrick Theatre, which also has a studio.

“Then we work with churches in the community, the library, a local hotel.

“So we have other spaces that we go to as well and working partnerships. It makes it more of a community-based festival.

“Lichfield has a reputation for having a lot of things going on in the summer.

“Bars, restaurants and shops get more customers coming in. Hotels are generally full for those two weeks. They really love the festival time and are very supportive.

Paul Merton's Impro Chums will appear at the Lichfield Festival
Paul Merton's Impro Chums will appear at the Lichfield Festival
 

“This year we’re working a lot with smaller businesses on co-promotion and getting them involved. More and more each year we are making it a festival city.”

One event that will be tinged with sadness this summer will be the official handover between outgoing director Fiona, who is leaving after four years at the helm, and the incoming Sonia Stevenson.

“She currently runs the St Andrews Voices Festival in Scotland. She lives in London but commutes up there so Lichfield will be a stop off on the way,” says Jennifer.

“St Andrews is for the voice so it is singing and poetry and spoken word. It is a smaller festival than here but it’s gathering a good reputation.

“It is sad to see Fiona go but exciting to look forward to fresh ideas coming in, a new focus.”

* The Lichfield Festival runs from July 4-13. For details and a full programme of events look up www.lichfeildfestival.org or call the box office on 01543 412121