I wasn't prepared for something that was so visual, so dramatic, so polished, so goddam impressive. It was as excellent as anything I have seen at the Festival this year and was completely home-grown in Norwich, with locally-based skills.
For a start, the weather was glorious and we took the opportunity to drive up in a classic Citroen DS, which set us in the right frame of mind. By 5.30pm, the light was perfect - it was warm but the heat had dropped. Just right. Even then I wasn't quite ready for what followed.
An introduction read by Simon Floyd, in a Harris tweed suit, a poem. I couldn't quite see or hear at this point but suddenly appeared a long line of men, dressed in vintage 40s style clothing and each carrying a black umbrella over their head (it wasn't raining) peeled off and headed off trough the trees. My interest started to rise and I wished I had brought my camera and charged my phone. We were instructed to follow Simon who was carrying a blue umbrella (others followed a person carrying a red umbrella) and in this way they divided the audience and the choir. From then on I was hooked.
Following Simon into a courtyard, with half of the choir assembled, mostly women this time, dressed in 40s style clothing, looking slightly ghostly, staring ahead at the audience opposite. As they sang, the birds swooped and chirruped overhead as though they liked this harmonic invasion of their territory. Next stop was the chapel in the house, so we were led through the kitchens and landings into a grand marble-clad space with the other half of the choir assembled on the stairs, conducted by Jon Baker who was sporting a rather fab orange and brown striped suit somehow reminiscent of marmalade.
A brass quartet were by this time an integral part of the sound, complementing the wide range of voices from soprano to baritone - an impressive array of volunteer singers all recruited from Norwich and surrounds. This time we had a close-up view of their somewhat dowdy clothes and wan faces - underfed servant workers or pale ghosts, or both, it was hard to tell but they were certainly stoney-faced and unresponsive to the audience making them all the more spooky - it was as though we weren't there.
Following the brass players, we were led outside and into the sunshine, facing a huge expanse of Holkham Hall grounds, with a tall monument column n the distance. We set off across the grass, led by singers, umbrellas and dark clothes framed against the green (I wish I had photos but Richard Shashamane has some great ones here).
As we walked through copses and across the open grass, we were passing through standing voices, stopping in a variety of spaces until we reached the monument. Here there were log seats, a piano and a music stand. Here, Simon read a poem celebrating Great Yarmouth, apparently written by someone in the town's hey-day of the herring industry - to the backdrop of the odd bit of gunfire and an overhead helicopter.
On through more woodland, passing little scenarios or tableaus of memories, perfect little set pieces tucked in amongst the bushes. More stops, though walking through a passage of sound is most prominent in my mind, a corridor of changing notes.
All the time, the aesthetic of the visual and the rhythm of the choreography was taking my breath away, and I kept thinking 'we are so privileged to be experiencing this'. I couldn't imagine how Sian Croose and Jon Baker had conceived and executed all of this with 150 non-professional performers, even with the help of their fellow team, brought together for the Festival. Everyone I spoke to was so impressed. As we headed back to the house, we were accompanied by a lone violinist being rowed down the lake in a small wooden boat, and a host of singers cycled past us with baskets full of flowers, looking rather like the cast of 'Fetch the Midwife' and ringing their bells - no opportunity to use the site had been missed. The last pieces saw the whole choir assembled in front of the houses singing about lost memories before walking towards us with a postcard showing the very same image we had just witnessed. It was all so clever and thought through, no details was missed, or if it was, it didn't matter.
I think that everyone that was there will remember 'Souvenir' for ever, which is a testament in itself and it has since been all over Facebook and Twitter. We all drove away, bumping into the people arriving for the next performance - knowing that they had a real treat in store. Absolutely well done to all involved - I am proud of Norwich talent this weekend