Review: Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2017

Norfolk & Norwich Festival

Fri 12 – Sun 28 May

Every May the Norfolk & Norfolk Festival transforms our fine city with an absurdly imaginative and vibrant collection of creative experiences and performances from both local and globally acclaimed talent. At this year’s Festival you could have seen and taken part in all manner of curious things. In fact, you could have…

  • Taken a ride on a giant mechanical jellyfish
  • Spent the night at a choral sleepover in a beautiful grade I listed 17th century building!
  • Celebrated life through Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring through a quartet performance and multi-media display
  • Relaxed on a deckchair at night under the Museum of the Moon
  • Enjoyed a piece of theatre on a double-decker bus tour of Norwich

Yet this is just a mere glance of what was on offer. In addition to hundreds of musical, visual arts, theatre and other performances, there were many free events. This year included a bumper-packed edition of complimentary street performances, garden parties and moon-gazing activities around the city.

Roots and Toots was invited to attend various ticketed events – sweet rapture spread across my face when I received the email! – for the last few weeks have been a rollercoaster: I’ve been juggling work, writing poetry, dealing with a whole new level of public temper tantrums form my boyfriend and getting used to my toddler working away form home. Hang on, that last part should be the other way around. Yet amidst this befuddling spell, I managed to make three of the performances. Below is a ‘flash review’ of each of the three events, from my point of view and a few words from my guest who joined me at each event.


Roll Over Atlantic

The official blurb: Winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, Caribbean-British poet John Agard performs a quirky reimagining of the notorious voyage of Christopher Columbus. Written in verse and performed against a background soundscape of Atlantic murmurings and mosquito symphonies, Agard’s satirical one-man show takes his audience on a fantastical, fanatical historic voyage into the birth of a new world that still bears relevance to contemporary issues.

Jenny: Roll Over Atlantic was an entertaining evening, with calypso, poetry and seafaring adventures. I loved the voice of the Atlantic (the voice of God!) and the very inventive army of mosquitos. Varied and interesting, it was good food for thought and I laughed out loud several times. This wasn’t a wholly spellbinding performance though – my concentration waxed and waned across the different scenes, and Agard’s voice was sometimes hard to understand over the music. Overall – worth seeing.

Leah: It took me a little while to get into the performance. There were moments that pulsed with the extraordinary yet other times I felt a little lost at sea. I loved the strangeness of it all. I’d heard that Agard loves to play with words like people play with musical notes. That much is true. It was all quite satirical yet at times his delivery was a bit off-piste. He explored the scars of slavery with wincing realism. The sound effects were good and unexpected, the voice of the Atlantic, as Jenny’s says was hypnotic. Agard delivered his performance with erratic energy and with a dark and earnest wit.

Story Machine


A personal highlight. This unusual event was in fact not one but a series of small performances held across one of Norwich’s newest and funkiest venues, The Shoe Factory. It’s an immersive literary event like nothing you’ve experienced before. Here’s the drill: the audience attends the same beginning and end performance yet each individual is given the freedom to choose which of the three chapters they attend in between. We had the choice of: spoken poetry, readings, performances and installations, including new work by Haruki Murakami, a film and audio exhibition by Helen Macdonald, Sarah Wood and Olivia Laing, and stories from Ben Okri, Tessa Hadley, KJ Orr, Thomas Morris and more – held across two industrial floors of free-moving energy.

Matthew: The concept was bold and each narrative was highly engaging. I enjoyed the idea of choosing my own path for the evening. In fact, each performance meant more because I’d chosen it and there was a great amount of anticipation in the air: What will happen next? Where is this taking me? I particularly enjoyed the poetry performance ‘Written in the Skin’ where the audience was part of the stage; I identified with William Leftford who delivered the readings alongside Cat Woodward. The subject matter, themed around ‘bodies’ was very raw and honest. We both left feeling very inspired, not just by the performances but the dramatic setting.

Leah: No rules, no fixed seating plan, no agenda. Upside down crates, boxes, stools, fold-up chairs, leather armchairs and nooks and crannies for the audience to occupy at whim, as you soaked up a surprising turn of events. I loved the bite-sized performances and the ability to choose which ‘chapter’ came next. I loved the independence, freedom of movement, wide-open spaces and above all, the high caliber of each and every reading, enactment, play and recording. I was blown away.

Garden Party


Cobalt blue sky behind the occasional marshmallow. The ultimate (free) family event, held in Norwich’s Chapelfield Gardens.

Family entertainment and extraordinary performances attended by Norwich’s bohemian crowd, the Garden Party took over Chapelfield Gardens on the middle weekend of the Festival. With delicious food and drink available, we certainly made a day of it.


The Garden Party was full of exciting performances and entertainment perfect for all ages. We took part in the real life arcade games, virtual reality headsets on the swings, popped by for some crafting at the Norwich Puppet Theatre stand, ate paper plate-fulls of street food and possibly my highlight, followed the amusing and captivating “Sultans of Sewage” around the park.

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A big heartfelt thank you to the festival organisers for inviting Roots and Toots along to some of the events this year! x


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