N&N Festival Diary: Thursday, May 8

Ian Collins Audiences so far have ranged from an estimated 6,000 revellers following the Friches Théâtre Urbain carnival procession through Norwich late on Saturday evening to a regular date involving a single spectator in the back of a van. That lonesome latter comes courtesy of Dutch theatre designer Dries Verhoeven.

Ian Collins

Ever since a friend of mine found herself the only member of the congregation in her village church (happily the vicar dispensed with the hymn), I've had rather a horror of forming an audience all on my own. But uniquely, so to speak, this singular experience is now part of our festive fun.

Yes, audiences so far have ranged from an estimated 6,000 revellers following the Friches Théâtre Urbain carnival procession through Norwich late on Saturday evening to a regular date involving a single spectator in the back of a van.

That lonesome latter comes courtesy of Dutch theatre designer Dries Verhoeven, who wanted to explore the idea of a performance without performers and came up with Thy Kingdom Come, a free event running 11am-6.30pm on Chapelfield Plain daily until Sunday.

Each brief episode revolves around a private meeting in a van. Dries explains: “A single spectator meets a stranger in a small room. They are waiting for a performance to begin.

“One of them starts speaking the words the other one has always longed to hear. For a short moment thy kingdom come creates a world in which a stranger can turn into a beloved.”

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Crikey. What on earth is going on here? Blurring the boundaries between life and spectacle, this novel production promises to turn your life upside down in a mere 20 minutes.

Off to the vanguard, back-of-van event to find out.

So veteran rockers such as the Rolling Stones and the Who are still rocking and rolling in their sixties. So what? The giants of jazz are jazzing it up in their eighties.

There is something about jazz that keeps its star performers ever engaged, enthused and youthful, until they finally drop mid-performance…

Since the death of George Melly last summer and Humphrey Lyttelton last month, octogenarians still at the peak of their careers right to the end, the baton as the grandfather (rather than the godfather) of British jazz has clearly passed to Stan Tracey, whose legendary quartet plays Norwich Playhouse this evening.

Now 81, Stan has been a professional musician for 65 years. At 16 he entertained troops in an Ensa group by playing the accordion. The piano came later.

Mixing with stellar musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, he recorded his first album as a group leader all of 50 years ago. A mere 40 years back he was house pianist in Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho (earning so little that he had to catch the 3am workmen's bus home to Streatham).

Times became so tough that he nearly retrained as a postman, but held out to win acclaim with an octet, sextet and finally a quartet and to receive a CBE in the latest New Year's Honours list.

Noted for a melodic lyricism echoing Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, Stan Tracey has also famously responded to poetry - especially in the landmark album from 1965 Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood.

One track from that classic suite, Starless and Bible Black, is among the most celebrated recordings (and rerecordings) in jazz, rendered perfect by the sublime sax of Bobby Wellins.

Old troupers Tracey and Wellins will recreate that poetic magic live this evening.

Over in Earlham Park the world premiere of NoFit State Circus is rather more akin to an inter-galactic experience, given that the exciting and explosive show takes place in a giant silver spaceship tent rather than the traditional big top.

The leading UK contemporary circus company's last production, Immortal, received instant cult status and was a big hit at a recent Norfolk and Norwich festival. But the new show, entitled Tabu - Standing on the Edge of the Wilderness, is better still.

Suitable for 11-year-olds and upwards, the new spectacular spectacle co-commissioned by our festival is winning rave reviews - including one from acclaimed performance artist Laurie Anderson.

Save for a break on Monday, NoFit State can be seen daily until the end of the festival - bowing out with two shows on Saturday May 11. Tickets are still available for all performances but only a handful remain for the last one which gives way to a firework finale.

No chance of hearing a Radio 3 reprise of this year's festive highlights alas, since the recording unit was withdrawn from Norfolk a year or two back.

There were too many complaints that, especially in St Peter Mancroft Church or St Andrew's Hall, mikes kept picking up the sounds of sirens and motorbikes. The wrong kind of outside broadcasting.

But now, after soundproofing works at St Andrew's Hall, and a bigger national airing for a Norfolk and Norwich festival than ever before, director Jonathan Holloway has a priority of wooing back the BBC recorders next year.

Festive tip: whenever a headliner event is officially SOLD OUT - as with tonight's gig by the Stan Tracey Quartet at Norwich Playhouse - that does not mean you entirely missed out. Return tickets are almost always available on the door 30 minutes before the performance is due to begin.

For a brochure with full listings of all events this year, phone 01603 877750 (or visit www.nnfestival.org.uk). To book tickets call 01603 766400.

WHAT'S ON TODAY

11am-6.30pm Dries Verhoeven, Chapelfield Plain. Free admission.

8pm NoFit State Circus, Earlham Park.

8pm Stan Tracey Quartet, Norwich Playhouse. SOLD OUT.