The Festival started on Friday 10th May 2013 and I was privileged to be invited to the official launch and opening of the visual arts programme with an installation in Norwich Castle Keep by Brian Griffiths and his curated exhibition of contemporary sculpture from the Arts Council collection. It was like a house party (lots of people I know) with speeches and so I didn't get to see much of the work - but I will be going back to be shown around by Norwich Castle's very talented curator and exhibitions officer Hannah Higham.
So Saturday I was up bright and early to follow the trail around the city left by artist Caroline McCarthy, led by guest curator Stephen Brandes. In a small group we left the Norwich Cathedral Close having spotted the first installation of a photocopy of a cat sitting in a maze, entitled Lost. I must confess, I was, and this particular piece was indeed lost on me. But as we progressed around the city to see a variety of scale and media, I was steadily more and more impressed. I won't spoil your enjoyment by telling you too much but I recommend setting aside an hour or two and following the trail from Norwich Cathedral to the Roman Catholic cathedral - if nothing else, it's a nice walk with many surprises along the way, tucked in shop windows. Probably my favourite is on John Lewis, though the piece in Aurum is pretty cool too.
On the way, we stopped for a performance of Faust by Bad Taste Company outside the Forum. It was packed and hard to get a good view. And what perhaps should have been theatre-in-the-round was very much facing one direction so I only got to see the back - which made me wish I was at the front - it was evidently very well executed with obvious roots in breakdance and a great style all of its own and a variation on an old story - a man makes a pact with the devil. The use of fire and a gaunt stage-set, swing dance and 20s/30s speakeasy music all gave it atmosphere which made me think it shouldn't be outside in a wide open space in the middle of the day. But it is a great show which I am sure will do very well as it gets going. Here's a review by Mustard TV on Faust
After that, a quick visit to the Undercroft to see the installation by Rhona Byrne 'It's all up in the air'. The Undercroft is a new surprise space which is coming into its own as a gallery venue. It's at the back of the market under the Memorial Gardens and used to be the store for market traders and crash barriers. Now a refurb means it is available for use by artists for exhibitions, and Rhona has installed patchwork carpets underneath tangled masses of black balloons twisted together to form black clouds. You can go and sit under a black cloud and contemplate your navel, or romp around like many children did - it's a space for social interaction and there are some events planned during the week such as Speed Moaning (been and done), Laughter Yoga (25 May 3-4pm) and Cloud Play (24 May 4-6pm). The installation is open throughout the Festival till 6pm Sunday 26 May.
The evening for me was The Voice Project's Ideas of Flight in the Cathedral. With a pretty star-studded cast of Barbara Thompson, Andy Sheppard and our own Norwich stars Jon Baker and Sian Croose, who devised and directed the piece, backed by a 100-strong community choir who come together each year for a Festival performance which they learn and practice from February till May. The piece was experimental and interesting, in places mimicking bird cries and calling. The composers worked with the RSPB and singer Sianed Jones made some very credible and musical imitations.
Overall, it was a very good performance particularly by a non-professional choir - I particularly liked the 'chatter' when all of them were sounding together like a whole crowd of starlings - however, I did think they struggled to fill the Cathedral with sound - it is such a big space - and it also probably was a little bit too long in places. But the projections of swooping birds across the cathedral bosses and roof really added to it, and the wide range of performers made it a very successful concert overall.
And lastly, outside the cathedral in The Close, the French Compagnie de Quidam were lining up for the second showing of Reve d'Herbert in which tall floaty creatures (on stilts) mixed in amongst the crowds and then inflated and turned into huge jelly baby creatures with illuminated heads who danced with people and each other before bobbing off down towards Pull's Ferry. It was indeed 'dreamy' and compared to other Festival launch events, quite low-key and cool, sweet even rather than scary, fiery and noisy. As they disappeared from view, my friend and I decided it was time to retreat to Take 5 across the road for a very welcome beer! And Sunday was a day of rest....
Here's a little review of where I went on the first weekend of Norfolk and Norwich Festival, and some pictures so please scroll down
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Marion Catlin, principal creative consultant for The Shift with extensive experience in cultural development and design for the arts, heritage and culture sectors