This was probably the point where my Norfolk and Norwich Festival 17 began, with my seemingly annual visit to the Theatre Royal. I always feel a bit out of my comfort zone for gigs at the Theatre Royal, constrained by its formality and my lack of regular attendance, and yet have rarely come away disappointed by a gig at this venue, having seen some Festival gems here (Bombino, AfroCubism, Staff Benda Bilili et al.) This though is surely the best thing I have experienced here on this deservedly sold out date (one of only two UK performances, the other being at The Barbican), world class artists putting on a haunting, spellbinding and beautifully melancholic unbroken show of 90+ minutes being an exploration of self, and for the large part a commentary on the current state of America, which in many ways parallels what is happening here, how nothing makes sense anymore, leaders elected on their storytelling, and everything that happens being a surprise. It is not done without humour however and is a brilliantly constructed show albeit with sections of improvisation.
I think I could listen to Laurie Anderson talk about anything and I would find it beautiful, she has the poet’s enunciation and a captivating voice but her way with words and her delivery utterly charmed the whole theatre. I came without preconceptions but certainly did not expect to find myself laughing as I did.
The performance seemed loosely split into two with Philip Glass for the first section being the one speaking between pieces, explaining the background and also the cameo recorded poetry pieces from Allen Ginsberg, and later, Lou Reed.
Glass, obviously on piano and Anderson on electric violin was joined by Rubin Kodheli on cello, with a brilliant backdrop projection with chalk scrawls on a blackboard being the commentary on the end of empire as well as gentler scenes of trees and animals, including a unicorn.
It was a breathtaking performance and I had many personal highlights, a piece about three or four songs in was just astonishing whilst Anderson’s anecdotes about her childhood correspondence with Senator Jack Kennedy, the allusions to Trump, and a retelling of Aristophanes’ play ‘The Birds’ were worth the admission alone but coupled with the incredible improvisational section with the interplay between all three, and an unforgettable version of Democracy is Coming to the USA by that other supreme poet, Leonard Cohen. I found myself at the end on my feet to pay ovation for something very, very special indeed. Beforehand I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from the evening, had no preconceptions but at the end felt I had seen and heard absolute greatness, a real privilege to have experienced this.
As chance would have it, it turned out that my friend and Outline colleague David was in the seat next to me, high up in the Circle. Although neither of us came here with the intention of reviewing we met again afterwards at the Festival Gardens and agreed it would be worth writing this up to keep the memories of such a special occasion fresh and alive. I didn’t read up or check anything about this gig beforehand so really didn’t even know if it would be my thing but found it melodic, thought-provoking and moving.
The evening for me concluded at the far less formal and more familiar Festival Gardens at the Spiegeltent and Adnams beer tent area, which always feels like the spiritual home of the festival itself. At 11pm the doors were opened for people to dance to the Drink ‘n’ Jive djs Renzo and Earl Harlem. NNF17 has truly begun!
The previous night Ideal Surreal hosted Violet Kicks, Marla, Post War Glamour Girls and a headline from the city Riot Grrls Peach Club, who must surely be destined for greatness, showcasing no less than four new songs at this gig.
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