A PACKED programme of theatre, music, visual arts and more awaits audiences as Salisbury International Arts Festival returns.

The 17-day event runs from May 24 to June 9 and will mark two global anniversaries — the 1969 moon landings and the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

Gareth Machin, Wiltshire Creative’s artistic director, said: “The festival will bring world class artists into the city who will perform alongside our amazing youth and community groups. Audiences can expect a fortnight of the unexpected with the city brimming with ideas, energy and joy.”

And guest festival director Jonathan Dove added: “It is seventeen days with more than 120 events - world-class artists from across the globe — everything from street theatre and stand-up comedy to jazz and even opera — with thought-provoking encounters, concerts to inspire and uplift - the anniversary of the moon landing making us see our earth in a new light — celebration of the vitality of this city.”

Moon Songs, with words by Alasdair Middleton, will be performed by hundreds of school children in Salisbury Cathedral, and Vertue, a setting of words by George Herbert, will be performed by a capella favourites Voces8.

Central to the Festival will be a dramatic installation inside Salisbury Cathedral. Luke Jerram’s Gaia is a huge, seven-metre wide sculpture featuring detailed NASA imagery of the earth’s surface which will be displayed under the spire crossing in the Cathedral for the duration of the Festival.

City Encounters returns on Sunday and Monday and will see free, outdoor dance, circus and music fill the city centre over the opening weekend. And a family fiesta will also be held in Bemerton Heath.

More than 8,000 tickets have already been sold for the festival, which returns after a year’s hiatus.

Gareth said: “I hope that audiences will find much that feels familiar but will also discover new ideas and energies within the programme.

“Our new Festival of Ideas is the most eye-catching addition, alongside our Bemerton Family Fiesta, taking some of the brilliant free work out of the city centre into other parts of the city.”

On what he has enjoyed most about putting the festival programme together, he says: “I am inspired by the themes of the festival and the way that they are reflected across the different art forms. I’m also inspired by our beautiful city and having the opportunity to find new ways of animating familiar spaces with unexpected activity.”

Jonathan added: “Along with the pleasure of dreaming up concert programmes in collaboration with wonderful artists, it was fascinating to meet people with such interesting stories to tell - Andrew Smith, who talked to nine of the twelve people who have ever walked on the surface of the moon, and Andreas Boyde, who was a child prodigy behind the Iron Curtain and got to see his own Stasi file.”

The event has taken more than a year of planning but festival producer Ali Robertson says it’s “all systems go”, adding: “Salisbury did miss the festival in 2018 and I really hope people come out and support the 2019 festival. It is a very special programme full of wonderful events.

“I hope there is going to be something for everyone.”

His highlights include City Encounters, Zvizdal, which centres around the story of a couple who refused to leave their home after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and Imber: You Walk Through — a music, spoken word and film experience.

For tickets or the full event programme go to wiltshirecreative.co.uk or call 01722 320333.