Norfolk and Norwich Festival Diary: Thursday May 7

Ian CollinsMuch of the credit for the growth of this and future festivals goes to the ever-bigger array of special events for youngsters - and that also includes the lively rest of us right up to youthful centenarians.Ian Collins

Much of the credit for the growth of this and future festivals goes to the ever-bigger array of special events for youngsters - and that also includes the lively rest of us right up to youthful centenarians.

After all, lately named as a classic children's book, Treasure Island is just the best adventure story ever written, and what a tragedy to miss it in childhood AND adulthood.

Paintings by the late great Mary Newcomb, whose memorial show I'm curating at Norwich Castle, have a similar appeal across the generations, given that they retain the child's eye view of intense observation coupled with a belief in magic.

Mary found poetry on Waveney Valley farms from the 1950s and she evolved a unique and universal art form by telling stories in paint based on our rural picture.

The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday with a festive launch for children as story-teller Eve Stebbing (also in the EDP's team of festival reviewers) picks up narrative threads in the paintings.

Two sessions - at 11am and 2pm - are free for children, and adults pay museum admission only. There are fee refreshments too. But booking is essential - on 01603 493625 or 495897.

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Few living writers have as high a public profile as Martin Amis, and amazing to think that the former enfant terrible of English literature has maintained that status now for the past 35 years.

At Norwich Playhouse tonight he reads from his new novel, The Pregnant Widow, and talks about freedom, the modern world and the role of the writer to Robert McCrum, current chair of our New Writing Partnership.

Now that he is just three months shy of his 60th birthday, will the erstwhile young radical turn into the sourpuss pensioner on the very wrinkled lines of Kingsley Amis, his late dad?

Then again his step-mother, the now Bungay-residing novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, has gracefully avoided the trap of age rage and geriatric resentment, continuing to savour the world with a fresh and fascinated eye.

Talking of New Writing Partnership, tonight sees the start of The Next Stage - a new review of the Escalator scheme to nurture young music and literature talent across eastern England - at Norwich Arts Centre. From this evening until Saturday, the worlds of performance poetry and live literature meet contemporary and world music. The tuneful gamut runs from acoustic to electronica, though naturally an act called Girl in a Thunderbolt (Saturday, 2pm) needs no further amplification.

My two favourite living composers are Arvo Part and Philip Glass - and both feature in our festival, the latter in person (Theatre Royal, Friday May 15). Tonight at St Peter Mancroft the renowned Tallis Scholars will explore settings of two great sacred texts - Miserere and Magnificat - by a galaxy of composers, including Allegri, Tallis, Byrd, Palestrina and… Arvo Part. Bliss for me and, no doubt, for the angels whose carved wings still seem to hold the ceiling of the ancient Norwich church aloft.

Here are some very festive figures. In the past five years our May jamboree has really rocketed - its annual audience surging from 15,000 to 70,000 and its turnover soaring from �300,000 to �2m. And its core subsidy has increased ten times to top �1m. Unsung heroes and heroines of all this commercial and creative growth are the board of directors, led first by Sir Nicholas Bacon and now by Caroline Jarrold - who also sings in the Festival Chorus.

At the entrance to St Peter Mancroft church before the Florilegium concert a friend hands me a large foam rectangle as well as my ticket. Looks to me like a rat mat (ie an outsized computer mouse mat). But no, it is in fact a cushion. The only problem with some of our best festival venues is the hard seating - and most particularly old church pews. Now a numb-bum cure is to hand for a mere �3 - and the foam cushion is also perfect for picnics. Or as director Jonathan Holloway puts it: 'If you like the cushion tell your friends and, if not, tell your proctologist.'


3pm-8pm Levity III, Luminarium, Chapelfield Gardens.

7.30pm Martin Amis, Norwich Playhouse.

7.30pm The Tallis Scholars, St Peter Mancroft.SOLD OUT.

8pm The Next Stage, Norwich Arts Centre.

Festival brochures are available from 01603 877750, or your nearest tourist information office. To book tickets call 01603 766400 or visit the website.


Whenever a headlining event is officially sold out, you are unlikely to have missed the boat entirely… Return tickets are almost always available on the door 30 minutes before the show is due to begin. Meanwhile, our two-for-one Hot Ticket offers return from tomorrow and will run daily for the rest of the festival - check this space each morning.