A giant dinosaur from the land that time forgot has been let loose in Norwich today to mark the start of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

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The Australovenator is the latest member of Erth’s Dinosaur Petting Zoo herd, which passed through customs earlier in the week on their 24 hour journey from Down Under to Norfolk ready to take part in the festival which runs from May 11 to 26.

Over the next two weeks kids across Norfolk will get the chance to feed, water and pet the huge beasts in this experimental theatre production commissioned by Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

”The general impression of dinosaurs is static fossils in a museum or untouchable beasts in a film but you can pet, feed and water our dinosaurs,” said Scott Wright, director of Erth’s Dinosaur Petting Zoo, whose mission is both to entertain as well as educate children about these extinct creatures.

“They display territorial behavior and get very hungry so we always have to count the number of children at the end of the show,” he joked.

Yet more prehistoric creatures will sway and fly over the crowds along Gentleman’s Walk and Millennium Plain from 9.30pm tomorrow night (Friday 11 May) in Invasion, a free outdoor performance by Close Act which officially kicks off Norfolk and Norwich Festival’s 16-days of celebration.

The festival programme has a range of world class performances by international talent such as Nigel Kennedy, Julian Lloyd Webber, London Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Theatre of Scotland.

The Festival is promoting emerging artists such as visual art curated by the dynamic OUTPOST gallery, fresh faces in British theatre like Little Bulb or Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe as well as showcasing emerging talent in BETA’s line up at its late night venue in The Puppet Theatre.

One of the headline acts will be Norfolk itself, continuing the trend of recent years that has put local people at the heart of the Festival. 100% Norfolk is a show about the population of Norfolk, starring the population of Norfolk – celebrating the quirks and qualities of our county.

One hundred people from across the county, some novices to the theatrical world, will take to the Theatre Royal stage on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 May in this Rimini Protokoll production directed by Norfolk born Emma Bernard.

100% partly fulfills the ambition of Norfolk & Norwich Festival’s Artistic Director William Galinsky to engage with as many people in both the city and across the county.

“100% represents one of the jewels in the crown of this year’s Festival. It is a piece of community theatre about us, about our sense of place in partnership with Rimini Protokoll one of the most interesting theatre companies in the world today. It is going to be theatre like you have never seen it and a magical night out.”

“My job as the Artistic Director is to help kids and young people unlock their potential and amazing creativity. I would say that we adults also have that creativity but the responsibilities of life, work, mortgage and family often means that we close down and what the Festival gives to us as adults is the opportunity to reconnect with our imagination and creative inner child.”

There are plenty of opportunities to join in without having to buy a ticket. Chapelfield Gardens and Millennium Plain will also be a hive of activity this weekend with the Festival’s Garden Party from 11am-5pm. People of all ages will be treated to some free outdoor performances and international street theatre including some delightfully odd installations, creatures from other worlds and sounds coming from unexpected places.

The Garden Feast on Saturday May 26 is yet another invitation to get involved by bringing a picnic to Chapelfield Gardens to watch yet more outdoor performances and side shows.

Time Circus’ Air Hotel - a tree top B&B - promises to wow overnight guests with a theatrical performance like no other and will be the must see must do performance of the Festival as was Dining with Alice last year

A range of secret hideaways and less well known places will also host art exhibitions and shows including St James Place Development Site where cars will pull up against the stunning backdrop of the Norwich skyline for a theatrical dance production Motorshow by Requardt and Rosenberg - which follows a young couple as they argue, kiss and make up evoking the mood of a David Lynch film on Saturday 19 May to Wednesday 23 May. Requardt and Rosenberg produced the smash hit 2010 Festival show Electric Hotel, which drew crowds to Millennium Plain.

The War Memorial’s Undercroft and Carnary Chapel at Norwich School will host Bill Viola’s Submerged Spaces exhibition and the derelict 1960s Westlegate building will bring together the contemporary work of German born painter Gregor Hylla with the Russian artist Yelena Popova.

• Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2012 will run from 11 – 26 May. Buy tickets online at www.nnfestival.org.uk, by phone on 01603 766400 or in person at Norwich Theatre Royal Box Office.

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