THE sky filled with light and fire during the spectacular twilight finale to the Portsmouth Festivities.
Thousands of people packed Castle Field on Southsea seafront last night to watch Lift Off! – a huge pyrotechnic display featuring dancing, music, stunts and fireworks.
Staged by award-winning creative company Walk the Plank – who brought the Ghost Ship to Portsmouth in 2009 – the climax to the space-themed arts festival was described by many onlookers as the best ever.
Using explosive special effects and huge colourful costumes the group told the story of the history of human flight, all the way from Icarus to the space race.
In time to music, stunt bikers raced across the natural stage to simulate Spitfire pilots and a huge model of the planets rotated in the air.
Finally stunned onlookers watched as an enormous flaming rocket was hoisted high into the sky, before fireworks brought proceedings to a colourful close.
The free display ended 11 days of talks, concerts, performances and exhibitions which celebrated the city’s motto – Heaven’s Light Our Guide – and was hailed a fantastic success by organisers.
Afterwards James Priory, chairman of the festivities and headteacher of Portsmouth Grammar School, said the event had surpassed even his expectations.
He said: ‘It was amazing and I was absolutely delighted to see so many people enjoying it so much.
‘There was a terrific atmosphere in the audience and you could clearly see their surprise and excitement while the show was going on.
‘I feel like over the last 11 days our space theme has really reached out to people and helped make this an incredibly successful festival.
‘There is a real pride in this city and people want to celebrate it, so to hear the applause at the end of the show was fantastic.’
Featuring flaming torches, Catherine wheels and exploding pictures, the 30-minute extravaganza followed a procession across Southsea Common to the bandstand, where hundreds of people had enjoyed an afternoon of live music.
Watching the show was 35-year-old Brad Seall, from Portchester, who said: ‘It was brilliant; a terrific day out.
‘You had great music, amazing effects and a real family-friendly atmosphere. We loved it.’
Youngsters from across the city took part in the show, including pupils from Portsmouth Grammar School who also helped compose some of the music.
Elaine Brewster, 52, of Lombard Street, in Old Portsmouth, said even compared with the incredible Ghost Ship display, Lift Off! had taken her breath away.
She said: ‘I have lived in Portsmouth all my life and this is the best show of its kind I’ve ever seen.
‘We do this kind of thing so well. I’m already looking forward to next year.’
Also watching the show was leader of Portsmouth City Council – which supported the festivities – Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who said the event would hopefully keep growing in size and success.
‘It was wonderful as always,’ he said. ‘They always put on an amazing show, and next year we want to go even bigger and more spectacular.
‘Portsmouth Grammar School really deserves a lot of credit for putting this on every year, and using so much of its own money to fund it.’