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Norfolk’s annual arts jamboree

Posted by Jonathan Broom on 13 March 2018
Related property: Barnham Broom
Norfolk’s annual arts jamboree

With two Championship-standard 18-hole golf courses, tennis and squash courts, swimming pools and a fully-equipped gym, the Barnham Broom Hotel and Country Club is a mecca for any sports and fitness fan. But every year, for two weeks (and a bit) in early summer, holidaymakers at Barnham Broom can enjoy something extra, right on their doorstep.

Norfolk is not exactly famous as a centre of cultural excellence – but it should be; the county, and in particular Norwich, its beautiful capital city, punches well above its weight in terms of visual and performance art. Norwich’s Norman Foster-designed Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (itself a masterpiece) houses, as permanent exhibits, some of the most remarkable works of art ever assembled in the UK. Picasso, Degas, Giacometti, Modigliani, Bacon and other seminal European modern artists are all represented – and there are a host of smaller galleries around the city, displaying – and selling – works by local and national artists.

But once a year, in the latter half of May, the city and county’s arts scene really comes alive, with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. This celebration of creativity (which these days focuses mainly on the performing arts) has been held annually since 1772; it was and is the first festival of its kind in the UK, and today is the fourth-largest in Europe.

And it’s a broad church; over 16 days and nights, you can expect to see and hear everything, in a barrage of sensory overload.

Just a few highlights:

The free opening show on Friday 11th May sees Norwich’s Cathedral Close taken over by internationally acclaimed French street-theatre company Transe Express, in a show that promises to be unmissable – a riot of sound, light and spectacle.

On Wednesday 16th May, Ladysmith Black Mambazo come to town. The South African a capella group, who shot to fame in 1986 as contributors to Paul Simon’s Graceland album, provided a soundtrack to the troubled Rainbow Nation’s transition from segregation to integration, and today those beautiful harmonies are just as resonant.

On Friday 25th May, Viv Albertine of legendary punk-rock band The Slits discusses her new book To Throw Away Unopened. Expect a well-argued feminist polemic, some well-told tales from The Slits’ glory days, and plenty of humour.

Albertine appears in the Spiegeltent, now a Festival landmark in its own right. A Spiegeltent is a large travelling tent, not dissimilar to a big-top but much better built. Constructed from wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and stained glass, Spiegeltents were intended as travelling entertainment venues, with the accent on the lowbrow (sorry, Viv). Think music hall, or burlesque, and you’re in the right area. Originally built in Belgium during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, only a handful of Spiegeltents remain in existence today. The Spiegeltent will be sited in Norwich’s Chapelfield Gardens, and it’s well worth a look regardless of who’s performing.

Further afield around the county, the art tends to be a bit more ‘static’: pictures, sculpture and so on. But there will be what’s expected to be a beautiful and thought-provoking interactive installation on Wells Beach. From Monday 21st until Sunday 27th May, Wayfaring will use local and found materials to craft an installation on the beach which audiences can move through, investigate and contribute to. On the final weekend illumination, music and performance will transform the installation in a rousing celebration.

And, back in Norwich, to round things off, a real, classical, treat: on 27th May at the Theatre Royal, the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Thomas Adès will end the Festival with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Norfolk: sports, fitness, empty spaces, big skies, beauty, history, and vibrant culture. Just what else does a holiday destination have to offer?

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Jonathan Broom

Jonathan Broom

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