100% Norfolk is likely to feature one of the most diverse casts to take to the Norwich Theatre Royal stage for many years — mainly because it’s made up of you (or people like you). SIMON PARKIN reports.

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It’s not unusual for local people to take to the stage of the Norwich Theatre Royal — it does after all host several amateur productions a year.

However how often does the cast consist of locals with no theatrical ambitions — on stage for a story that is entirely about them?

That is just what will occur during 100% Norfolk, sponsored by Greater Anglia, one of the centre-piece productions of this year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

The show will use the lives and stories of 100 local people to offer a snapshot of life in our county.

To get the numbers correct the producers set about looking for men, women and children from right across the county to star in the production but this was no ordinary casting call.

When the entire line-up is complete, it needs to match the demographic of the Norfolk population.

It is quite literally Norfolk in numbers. There are 100 ordinary Norfolk people in the cast who are there to tell their stories and to put a human face on Norfolk statistics — for example, 51% of the county is female so 51 women and girls make up part of the cast.

Director Emma Bernard explains: “We needed to get 100 people from Norfolk and we needed to get them to represent the demographic. With 51% of the county’s population being female, we need to find 51 women and girls to take part.”

It is not as simple as that though. The casting team also needed to make sure the ages, locations and places of birth of all participants fitted in with the make-up of the county.

Once everyone was found, the next stage of the process began as the cast create a production combining personal stories and the chance to discover what it is like to be part of Norfolk life in 2012.

100% Norfolk is based on an ongoing project by Rimini Protokoll from Berlin, which has so far included 100% Berlin, 100% Vienna and 100% Vancouver.

The company’s work draws on the views of “experts in daily life” to create contemporary and imaginative productions where everyday people are the theatre’s principal characters.

“It is an excuse to be nosy,” laughs Emma Bernard. “It is a formula of a show by Rimini Protokoll and they made it originally as 100% Berlin. We are remaking it here and it is about getting real people on stage. It is not really about acting. It is more about people being themselves on stage.”

Though the company have been through their unique casting process before, the task of reflecting the whole of Norfolk proved their most ambitious to date.

“It is the first time it has ever been done in a county,” says Emma. “When you are doing it in a city, you have a particular kind of diversity. In a county, you have this extraordinary difference between people who live in a tiny village in an isolated part of Norfolk and those who live in a city. For us, it is incredibly important that those who are further out and not in the urban context got involved because without that, it couldn’t be 100% Norfolk. It really has to represent the whole county.”

Emma admits the emphasis on demographics is an excuse to find a cross-section of people with diverse stories to tell. But there has also been the hurdle of getting people to realise their own lives are fascinating — and persuading them to get on stage.

“There are also those people who think ‘I really don’t think I can be on stage.’ Those are the people we really wanted to meet,” said Emma.

“A lot of the work I do as a director is working with people who have never been on stage before and I do that because I am absolutely fascinated by people. When it comes down to it, we all are. We all want to know what ordinary people are doing, what they’re thinking, and what their opinions are.”

Joining 99 other people equally ensure about the process, just also keen to join in helped to break the ice and encourage people to open up and tell their stories.

“I think there is a whole thing about being part of a company which gives the confidence of being part of a community.

“People have been interviewed about themselves, their relationships to each other, Norfolk and the wider world, and the studies have led to questions which they have then asked the whole group.

“The cast features people aged five to 83 and from across the whole county, and each person has an object they have chosen which means something to them. It is a very joyful show and fascinating to watch.”

One thing is for sure, it will be a unique show, combining personal stories and revealing insights into what it’s like to live in Norfolk in 2012.

William Galinsky, Norfolk and Norwich Festival director, who is excited at what the show will produce, said: “This will be a must for anyone who loves the place they call home. 100% Norfolk will be an illuminating and uplifting celebration of our county and our people.”

t 100% Norfolk, Norwich Theatre Royal, May 18-19, £15-£5, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

MEET 7 OF THE 100

Andrew Cawdron, 64, worked as an engineer and architect who literally helped to build Norwich (working on projects such as Chapelfield, Riverside and the Anglia TV building) leaving his mark across the city for future generations. His family lived in the Coslany Ward and were involved in Norfolk’s shoe industry “My family has been in Norfolk for over 300 years”

Albert (Bert) Hume, 73, worked as a car park attendant for NCFC for 30 years and is a huge fan – first match in late 1950s. He has organized Jamborees for up to 4000 people from 13 countries and has met Royalty. “I’d love Norwich City to win the Cup! Me and the 26,000 others are there to do just that – we campaign for the team by shouting and screaming to cheer them on”

David Cook, 68, worked for Norwich Union and is obsessed with numbers and statistics. David started collecting Dinky toys after his grandfather gave him four as a young boy and he now has almost 7,000 (1,000 of his collection are at Bressingham Steam Museum). He was given three months to live 10 years ago. “I’m a bit like Nelson, I’m proud to be a Norfolk man”

Emma Dean, 38 and her two sons Caleb, 13, and Solomon, 5. Emma works as a carer and cleaner and in quite unusual places. Emma cleans for someone who lives in a bus and another person who lives in a trailer. The family are bringing special objects as part of the show – Emma is bringing her Nan’s wooden spoon because her Nan let her cook all the time. “I have memories of going into Nan’s kitchen and making hideous cakes with bits of eggshell in them but they were my cakes. The dog was covered in cake mixture and Nan was covered in flour.”

Vikki Fysh, 18, lives in King’s Lynn, where her dad’s family has lived for centuries. She refuses to have a credit card as she never wants to be in debt. She takes her camera everywhere for memories to look back on. She has worked in Wimpy in King’s Lynn since the age of 14 and says her 13 colleagues are like a second family. “We are all really close, we call ourselves the Wimpy Crew. We are all there for each other.”

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