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Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2018 review – ‘intimate circus and multi-sensory storytelling’

Barely Methodical Troupe's Shift. Photo: JMA

Spread over 17 days in venues across Norwich and beyond, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival encompasses music, performance and literary events. It’s possible to see Ockham’s Razor performing gravity-defying acts in the town centre, beach art at sunset and cabaret in the Chapelfield Gardens’ Spiegeltent.

The Spiegeltent is also the home of Barely Methodical Troupe’s new circus show Shift (★★★), a work that’s as much about intimacy as it is about spectacle. The relatively small size of the stage means you can see each quiver of the performers’ limbs and each grimace of effort. Esmeralda Nikolajeff, Louis Gift, Elihu Vazquez, and Charlie Wheeller use a series of blue rubber bands to propel each other across the floor. They clamber on each other’s backs, stand on each other’s heads and form human cat’s cradles.

As with the company’s previous show Kin, also directed by a choreographer, there’s a focus on support, on people coming together and flying apart. The show is repetitious at times and contains a couple of meandering spoken sections but its charm helps smooth over these issues.

The cast of Improbable’s The Paper Man

Another festival commission, Improbable’s The Paper Man (★★★★sets out to tell the story of the life of Austrian footballer, Matthias Sindelar.  To do so, Lee Simpson has assembled a diverse cast of co-creators– Jess Mabel Jones, Anna Maria Nabirye and Vera Chok – but the story soon begins to morph into something else, something new, as they question him and his intentions in casting them, disrupt his process and make it clear that it’s not enough for a white man simply to use them to tell the story he wants to tell in the way he wants to tell it, not when so many other stories go untold. Visibility only goes so far. Genuine diversity requires creative agency and a system of ground-up change.

In its own playful way, The Paper Man feels like a companion piece to Ella Hickson’s The Writer in the way it examines cultural gatekeeping – only with digressions about forgotten female football sensation, Lily Parr, and a sequence in which the three actors bicker over who gets to play Hitler. The old models. it’s made clear, will no longer hold.

The Isle of Brimsker (★★★★), by Frozen Light, is a multi-sensory show designed for people with profound learning disabilities. It uses music, light, scent, texture – and, perhaps most popularly, biscuits – to tell the story of a lighthouse keeper and the woman who arrives on her island and disrupts her life of isolation.

Each audience member is made to feel comfortable and secure. They are given blankets to help them feel cosy and get to handle the props – an illuminated wireless, a bowl of seashells. They are sung to one-by-one. The way the show is so carefully tailored to the audience’s needs provides a vital reminder that theatre can accommodate everyone.

Frozen Light: opening theatre’s doors to adults with learning disabilities

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Verdict
A varied and exciting programme of work at one of the country’s oldest arts festivals
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