Jack and Liam Move to Norwich

Jack and Liam Move to Norwich

Hardly breaking news is it? But it’s the title of a little something I wrote back in the summer of 2014 for the Visit Norwich City of Stories website. I was chuffed at the time when it was chosen as the opening piece in a series showcasing different aspects of Norwich life. I even pitched up at the red carpet launch and helped myself to one too many cocktails. The website has recently gone from literary showcase to shop window and content has been updated to feature the best the city has to offer. My article still stacks up I think, so I’m posting it here for posterity, with a few images to give it life.

City of Stories

Jack and Liam move to Norwich

Jack and Liam took up pole position outside a coffee shop to sup their lattes and people watch. The passing footfall was a bumper crop. A warm summer’s afternoon had delivered coaches of North Folk and charabancs of tourists to Norwich’s cobbled streets. Dutch lowlanders in sensible shoes mingled with happy snapping Koreans; local gentry in waxed jackets weaved through the hipsters in vintage garb; busy bees in smart suits hurried past, glued to their smart phone and a jester-hatted Big Issue seller competed with a line of smiley charity workers collecting direct debits for the cause. In the middle of the rainbow crowd, two men with well-fed midriffs and trendy whiskers paused to take in a busker crooning for his supper. They grinned as the Frank Sinatra tribute segued from New York, New York to a local interpretation of My Kind of Town (‘Naaridge is’) and when the final chords faded to nothing, they tossed some coins into a trilby perched on a Fender amp and vanished into the throng holding hands. Like everyone else in the surprising city, they were doing it their way.

Norwich Buskers

Jack ran his fingers along the cartoon tourist map. The tapestry of streets was weaved with familiar names of old London Town like Charing Cross, Blackfriars Bridge, Bishopsgate, Spitalfields, Haymarket, and Pudding Lane, threaded with roads of goats, cattle, dogs and a rampant horse, and stitched with more holy places than a mitred man could shake his crook at. But clearly this was not London. What the boys from the Old Smoke heard was an altogether different soundscape, just distant enough to escape the orbit of the great metropolis and the relentless surge of Estuary English. Somehow, Norwich had preserved a unique linguistic heritage, a melodic sweep of bouncing vowels and dropped consonants pickled down the centuries.

The inquisitive strangers downed their coffees to roam the streets. Their meandering took them to the Assembly House, a gorgeous pile of Georgian elegance and the perfect stage for Regency debutantes in ribboned bonnets to chase Mr Darcy and his magnificent britches around the courtyard fountain. Next door, the architectural show continued with the Theatre Royal, its modern overcoat disguising 250 years of board treading. A quick circuit of the front-of-house posters revealed an eclectic tradition of new and old, high-brow and kitchen sink, top hats and tutus, laughter and tears.

Back down the hill and along Gentlemen’s Walk, they passed neat rows of multi-coloured market stalls lined up like beach huts marooned at low tide. The vast City Hall, looking down on the medieval guildhall it replaced, provided an over-imposing backdrop.

Jack and Liam scampered down a maze of lanes and alleyways, a treasure trove of independents – shops, pubs and cafés. Norwich had bucked the national trend of sameness. Maybe the city’s relative seclusion had bubble-wrapped it from the commercial onslaught of identikit chains or perhaps wise burghers had protected the endangered. Whether by accident or design, it was a window shopper’s dream.

The most complete medieval city in Britain boasted the guide book, and as they pounded the streets up Saint This, down Saint That and along the lazy winding river that caressed the city like a feather-leafed boa, Norwich oozed the ages from every brick, paving stone and stained glass window. The city, it seemed, was triple dipped in history.

Finally, Jack and Liam came to rest on the far side of a handsome stone bridge and sat under the shade of a sprawling tree outside the Playhouse, the Theatre Royal’s little sister. A tree-top teapot in vivid yellow wafted in the breeze. The walk-weary old Londoners rested with a bottle of Merlot in the Playhouse beer garden. Close to the newly elevated University of the Arts, the bustling bar was the trough of choice for young fashionistas and their arty mentors. Jack and Liam took their seats in the refectory and imbibe an ambience that overflowed with naive optimism.

And that’s how it happened. One heady afternoon in the garden of the Playhouse Theatre Bar, Jack and Liam found somewhere new to lay their hats. An offbeat, theatrical, cosmopolitan, romantic, open-minded and open-hearted place set beneath the true-blue skies of Norfolk. Norwich, a surprising city. A place to live and a place to start living.

A random sample of Norwich’s medieval churches…

Anne Reid, I Love to Sing

Anne Reid, I Love to Sing

A couple of weeks back, Liam treated us both to a slice of cabaret at Norwich’s trendy Playhouse Theatre. We were front and centre for a night of song and gossip from veteran actress and national treasure, Anne Reid.

Ms Reid first electrified  the nation when she was fried by a dodgy hair dryer in Coronation Street, Britain’s longest running soap. It was 1971 and the untimely death of her character, Valerie Barlow, had 18 million viewers on the edge of their lurid orange velour sofas – about 30% of the entire UK population at the time. After taking time out to do the family thing, Ms Reid returned to the boards and popped up all over the place in film and television. Later, as a 66-year-old jobbing actress, she bedded the future 007 Daniel Craig in the 2003 film, ‘The Mother’. She received a BAFTA nomination for her performance. I would too, if I had the chance to bonk James Bond.

Anne Reid hasn’t looked back since. These days, she’s better known as Celia, the Daily Mail reading bigot with a lesbian daughter in the romantic drama ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, playing opposite old-school socialist Alan (Derek Jacobi). It’s an engrossing tale of family dysfunction with tight, fast dialogue. The show’s been an unexpected worldwide hit for the BBC.

Last Tango in Halifax

Back to the Norwich Playhouse. Thanks to Ms Reid’s touching renditions and recollections, we left the theatre on a nippy night feeling nothing but warm inside.

Godspell Reloaded

Godspell Reloaded

Godspell from Mixed Voice

September has been a bit of a culture fest – a fabulous film about rainbow comrades rattling the tin for the cause, Liam’s born again experience when kooky Kate flew out of reclusion and, right at the start of  the month, a musical treat from Mixed Voice at the Norwich Playhouse. Every year, Norfolk’s premier entertainment company asks the audience to vote on a show they should try on for size. Last year it was Rent. This year, the vote went to a revival of Godspell, the retelling of the parables attributed to the famous Galilean. With its happy clappy tunes, a flower power cast in primary colours and a newly polished script fit for the iPhone generation, it’s huge fun. Not nearly as successful as the unstoppable and overhyped Lloyd Webber juggernaut, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell offers more of a playground intimacy and really suits a smaller venue. Believers and non-believers alike, who could argue with the carpenter’s message of peace and love, particularly when it’s delivered by the multi-talented players of Mixed Voice? But I did spot a small congregation of dog collars fixed firmly to their seats during the standing ovation at the end. Maybe they didn’t like the frocks. There’s no accounting for taste.

A Night at the Rock Opera

RentLiam’s birthday is coming up so I treated him to a night at the rock opera. Players from local not-for-profit entertainment company, Mixed Voice, were strutting their stuff at the Playhouse Theatre trying their hand at ‘Rent.’ It may be a bit of a gay cliché but Liam loves a musical and ‘Rent’ is a musical he loves. Loosely based on Puccini’s ‘La Bohème,’ the tale focuses on an eclectic troupe of impoverished young artists and musicians in the late Eighties struggling against a bitter wind in Alphabet City, the once avant-garde (but now ruthlessly gentrified) district of Manhattan. While Puccini laced his opera with consumption, Rent is stalked by AIDS, the kiss of death back in the day. As the characters try to make ends meet, some meet their end. Despite the misery, Rent is neither depressing nor sugar-coated. But it is tough to stage and perform. A hugely complex, multi-layered score is punctuated by irregular rhythms, constantly changing tempos and complex harmonies which, if poorly delivered, could be a total dog’s breakfast. I had wondered if the cast would pull it off. Well, they pulled it off with some polish, receiving a well-deserved standing ovation. Even a normally reticent Liam leapt to his feet wanting more. Shame there wasn’t an encore.

 

Postscript

Methinks Mixed Voice liked the review:

The First Day of Spring

The First Day of Spring

The first proper day of spring found us leaping into the car to make sure we didn’t miss it. Liam fancied a road trip to the north Norfolk coast and had the resort of Sheringham firmly in his sights. The town was heaving with families who had the same idea, all making the most of the Easter holidays. The air was thick with a heady blend of exhaust fumes, deep fried cod and sickly-sweet candyfloss. Memories of childhood came flooding back, jaunts to windswept resorts before I discovered the joys of Spain. And believe me, Sheringham was windswept. The North Sea was working hard to propel ice cream scoops from cones, causing deafening tantrums from the buggy brigade. Fortunately, the wind was warm.  Just a few weeks ago, the nipple-hardening gusts would have petrified the kiddies to the spot. I can’t say I liked Sheringham that much. From its name, I expected cute and quaint. I got bucket and spades and amusement arcades, fine if that floats your boat. The beach, though, is impressive.

From Sherringham, we swept inland to the Georgian market town of Holt for a root around and a light bite. The main road into town is dominated by a large funeral directors’ showroom and I suspect it does a brisk business. More of a large village, handsome Holt drips money, judging by the number of Chelsea tractors cruising through the streets and the price of property in the estate agents’ windows. Sadly, Holt was more or less closed. It was Sunday and Sundays are still sacred in this corner of the county.  We found just one bar/restaurant open. The owners had clearly given up their day of rest to monopolise the day’s trade. At eight quid for a cheese and ham toastie, they were making a killing.

We made it back to base for a final snifter before sundown. Naturally, the riverside beer garden at the Playhouse Theatre Bar was our hostelry of choice. We were the oldest bingers in town as we sat like a couple of old pervs watching the exuberant youngsters around us and ear-wigging their artful (and sometimes pretentious) conversations. I didn’t realise Fred Perry tops are back in. Shame. I chucked all mine out in the Noughties.

Playhouse Bar Beer Garden

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