Norfolk and Norwich Festival diary: Tuesday May 5

Ian CollinsOne great strength of this year's festival is the early music programme - prompted in part by the 350th birthday of Henry Purcell and the 250th deathday of George Frideric Handel.Ian Collins

One great strength of this year's festival is the early music programme - prompted in part by the 350th birthday of Henry Purcell and the 250th deathday of George Frideric Handel.

Those who (wrongly) claim that English music was of little note between the death of Purcell and the arrival of Elgar, should at least concede that we plucked Handel from a great flowering of German talent since he long lived in London (writing Zadok the Priest for the coronation of George II - our greatest musical commission since Purcell's pieces for the funeral of Queen Mary 30 years earlier).

Purcell also had a huge influence on our own Benjamin Britten, as well as on sundry rock bands and pop stars. Every would-be chart diva has to have a go at Dido's lament even if the result is… lamentable. If you missed my tip last year, just watch Jessye Norman on YouTube for utter bliss.

And I'm always banging on about Baroque music bringing the sounds that most make for human wellbeing (unless we're counting birdsong). Now they should be piped through the NHS as part of our defence against swine flu and every other ailment.

Strange, because the current blockbuster Baroque show of art and artefacts now at the Victoria & Albert Museum makes me feel very queasy with all that overblown opulence in decorative swags and swagger. The music, however, seems to confirm the harmony of the universe.

Today's early music treat is a Purcell and his Contemporaries concert by the Florilegium ensemble with Scottish soprano Lorna Anderson at St Peter Mancroft church, bringing sacred and secular works by the likes of Blow and Locke as well as by the birthday boy himself.

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The leading lass from Glasgow has long felt at home in East Anglia. Her career has flourished internationally for more than two decades, ever since she won the coveted Purcell-Britten Prize for Concert Singers in competition at Aldeburgh.

For the past dozen years Gob Squad has been staging mixes of performance, installation and media - each show a work of improvisation aiming for audience involvement - in unlikely venues between Britain and Berlin.

The Anglo-German troupe has generated live art in urban sites from houses and hotels to shops, offices and railway stations, with 23 different dramas to date having a common thread in playful examinations of identity and the need for fantasy in making sense of contemporary existence.

The latest venture, on offer today and tomorrow at Norwich Playhouse, is Kitchen (You've never had it so good) - a madcap muse on Andy Warhol's 1965 film Kitchen… even though none of the cast has actually seen it.

Maybe Norman Mailer's review was enough. 'It was a horror to watch,' the novelist wrote. 'It captured the essence of every boring dead day one's ever had in a city when everything is imbued with the odor of damp washcloths and old drain.

'I suspect that a hundred years from now people will look at Kitchen and say 'Yes, that is the way it was in the late Fifties and early Sixties in America. That's why they had the war in Vietnam…That's why the horror came down. That's why the plague was on its way…'

Gob Squad's Kitchen sink drama is billed as 'a quest for the original, the authentic, the here, the now, the real me, the real you'. Plus, I presume, the real drain and washcloth.

In fabulous New York recently I found that the favourite topic of conversation was Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent. Who? What?

So when I got home - having long since skipped the TV - I registered close to the 55th million hit on the web record of this telly travesty.

Apparently the amazement was that ugly people can sing in tune, though we couldn't be sure because the studio audience was whipped into a screaming, clapping frenzy after the fourth note. From the wings two midgets (who I think were called Ant and Gnat) urged home viewers to go wild also. Why?

At the first night of the National Theatre's fantastic retake on My Fair Lady I was no less baffled when soap star Martine McCutcheon brought the house down with an opening warble of minimal competence and pitiful projection.

Telly has screened out the true thrill of live entertainment. Any of the 100-plus acts in this year's festival will be more talented than almost anything on the box.

After 5,000 plus visitors in Earlham Park for a firecracking free spectacle late on Saturday, this festival is breaking attendance records. Box office receipts have already surged to a new height above �200,000 - even though many tickets sell for only a fiver - when the total take five years ago was just �115,000. Advance sales may have dipped slightly amid recession worries, but late bookings are surging. In tough times we need top entertainment more than ever.

TODAY

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

7.30pm Florilegium, St Peter Mancroft.

8pm Gob Squad Kitchen, Norwich Playhouse.

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

HOT TICKETS

Today's two-for-one hot ticket offer is for the acclaimed early music ensemble Florilegium, and leading Scottish singer Lorna Anderson, with a concert devoted to Purcell and his contemporaries. These bargain St Peter Mancroft seats can be secured by calling the box office - 01603 766400 - before noon.