Highlights of Norwich’s arts scene in 2013

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Saturday, December 28, 2013
7:00 AM

With festivals galore and an array of other great entertainment, Norwich has enjoyed a colourful year of culture. Arts correspondent Emma Knights looks back at some of the highlights in the first of a two-part feature.

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Jack the Giant Slayer - scene filmed in Norwich CathedralJack the Giant Slayer - scene filmed in Norwich Cathedral

From Shakespeare performed in Norwich Cathedral’s cloister, to a red carpet movie premiere at Hollywood Cinema, to a 17-day festival full of art, music, circus and more, 2013 has seen Norwich enjoy a packed calendar of events.

Looking back to last December and January, more than 50,000 theatre-goers enjoyed the Theatre Royal’s 2012/13 festive show Aladdin which went on to be honoured with the Theatre Award at the second annual Norfolk Arts Awards later in the year.

Film premier of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa at Hollywood Cinema, Anglia Square, Norwich. Photo: Steve AdamsFilm premier of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa at Hollywood Cinema, Anglia Square, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

And if Norwich could have asked the pantomime’s Genie of the Lamp to grant the city a wish for a vibrant year of arts for 2013, he perhaps could not have done better than the year our fine city has enjoyed.

February saw Norwich Puppet Theatre host its annual Manipulate Festival, created in partnership with Puppet Animation Scotland, which brought acts from around the world to entertain audiences with animation, puppetry and visual theatre.

In March, Norwich Cathedral took centre stage on the big screen when the movie Jack the Giant Slayer was released. Part of the film – which starred Ewan McGregor and Bill Nighy – was filmed at the cathedral and cinema-goers saw the historic building transformed into a fairytale castle.

In April, part of the Sportspark at the UEA became the stage for the National Theatre of Scotland’s show Black Watch. The poignant drama, based on interviews with soldiers from the Scottish regiment who served in Iraq, was brought to the city by the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and University of East Anglia for the UEA’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Dame Judi Dench surrounded by schoolchildren at Norwich cathedral during her visit to the city.  Photo: Bill SmithDame Judi Dench surrounded by schoolchildren at Norwich cathedral during her visit to the city. Photo: Bill Smith

May was festival time as Norwich exploded into a kaleidoscope of quirky art, sublime music, amazing circus, Spiegeltent fun and more courtesy of the 17-day Norfolk and Norwich Festival. The arts extravaganza opened with Compagnie des Quidams’ Herbert’s Dream, a free, dreamlike spectacle in the Cathedral Close. Highlights of the NNF programme also included the return of spiritual spectacle How Like An Angel by Australian circus company Circa – who also brought new show Beyond to the Spiegeltent – and vocal ensemble I Fagiolini; the transformation of Norwich Castle’s Keep into a quirky village of tents for Brian Griffiths’ art show These Foolish Travels; the Philharmonia Orchestra performing Our Hunting Fathers – Britten in Norwich at St Andrew’s Hall, as part of the celebration of Benjamin Britten’s centenary; and Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s 13-hour epic tale of biography, Life and Times: Episodes 1-5 performed at Norwich Playhouse. Following on from the festival, the county became a giant gallery as artists opened their doors for Norfolk and Norwich Open Studios from May into June.

A troop of decorated apes descended on Norwich in June for the GoGoGorillas! charity art project which became one of the runaway success stories of the summer. Fifty-four adult gorilla sculptures, designed by local artists and sponsored by local organisations, formed the trail that was a hit with people of all ages. The trail, organised by children’s charity Break and Wild in Art, ran until September, and at auction in October the primates raised £272,300 for Break and the Born Free Foundation. Thousands of schoolchildren also took part in the project and designed baby gorillas for a second city trail.

Towards the end of June into July the inaugural Young Norfolk Arts Festival (YNAF) took place in venues across the city. The celebration of young talent in the arts was privileged to have a member of Britain’s acting royalty launch its first year.

Dame Judi Dench paid a visit, during which she held a question and answer session in Norwich Cathedral with Norfolk school pupils, watched Norwich School pupils rehearse Much Ado About Nothing for the festival, and paid a visit to Norwich Castle.

July also saw the cloister at Norwich Cathedral become the dramatic setting for the annual Shakespeare Festival, with GB Theatre Company performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice.

Red carpet fever hit Norwich in the same month as Norwich’s best-known fictitious DJ Alan Partridge came to Anglia Square for the world premiere of his film Alpha Papa that he described as his “love letter” to the city. The premiere at Hollywood Cinema hit the national headlines and was the result of the “Anglia Square not Leicester Square” campaign started by Rob Wilkes and Rafiq Turnbull.

The Lord Mayor’s Celebration in the same month saw the city party in style and the event’s highlight – the annual street procession – featured almost 70 floats. Pirates, cheerleaders, dinosaurs, rock bands, superheroes and alien creatures from Star Wars were among the colourful characters who delighted the crowds.

August saw the Sundown Festival bring acts including Example, Jessie J, JLS and Rita Ora to the Norfolk Showground.

See Monday’s paper for the second part of our 2013 arts review.

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