Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Truths, Lies, and Terminal 5 - Another Day with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

It's Monday. Yesterday was a day off from the Festival, as I made a frantic effort to bring all my domestic chores up to date ahead of a busy week. I've already completed two volunteer shifts, attended one lunchtime concert, and visited the Public Jukebox in Anglia Square. Today I have a driving shift, which involves collecting artists from Heathrow Airport, and still hope to get back to Norwich in time to watch a double bill from The Writers Centre as part of their City of Literature programme - Francesca Beard presenting 'A Lie', followed by YouTube sensation Hollie McNish reading excerpts from her book 'Nobody Told Me'.

These long-haul driving shifts for the festival can be a bit of a poisoned challis. On one hand you get to spend several hours catching up and putting the world to right with another volunteer as your co-driver for the day. If you are lucky you are collecting artists keen to learn more about Norwich, and the festival in general, and are happy to chat (Mind you, sometimes they are so tired after a long flight that they simply fall asleep. Or perhaps our conversation is not as riveting as we might imagine). On the other hand, you are sometimes working to a tight schedule - nobody likes to be left hanging around an airport terminal for hours awaiting collection, and certainly do not want to miss their flight through traffic delays and holdups on the return journey.

My shift starts at 8.00am at the First Drive depot in Paddock Street. The six-seater crewvan is prepped and ready to go. After a quick inspection of our driving licences, and a walk around the vehicle counting the scratches and stone-chips, fellow volunteer Alan and I are ready for the off. As expected, the escape routes from Norwich are fairly congested at this time of the morning, and it is a good thirty minutes before we are clear of the Thickthorn roundabout and flicking the gearbox into fifth.

We have brought our own sat-nav, not to rely on for the route, but simply to keep us updated on traffic conditions and provide a constantly updated estimated time of arrival at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5, where we are to collect artists arriving on BA flights from Geneva and Toulouse. They are part of the AurĂ©lian Bory's Compagnie 111 (Cie111) who are performing Sans Objet at the Theatre Royal, a choreographed show featuring two acrobats and a full-size robotic arm. According to the NNF programme, it "provides a spectacular dance between man and machine". I just hope that we are not expected to fit the robotic arm into the back of our van!

The gods are kind to us, and we arrive at Terminal 5 just after the first flight has landed. Short-term parking at Terminal 5 is expensive (£11 for up to two hours), but there is no alternative. On the plus side, it is adjacent to the terminal and there is a separate extended-height section for vans and mini-buses (We also noticed that a lot of these spaces were occupied by standard-height vehicles. Obviously some drivers have worked out that these are the closest parking spaces to the terminal building - useful tip!)

We find our first artist seated in the Costa coffee shop, and the second flight has now landed. Together we wait at the international arrivals gate. We are soon all on our return journey to Norwich, stopping only the once to re-fuel the vehicle (all have to be returned with the petrol tank replenished to a level equal to that on pick-up), buy some food, and allow an artistic smoke-break.

We deliver our precious human cargo to NNF production assistant Alice outside their accommodation in Pottergate, and hand over the remainder of our cash-float. We have made good time, and are able to return the van to the First Drive depot long before our own vehicles are at risk of being locked in over-night.

It is a shame that committment to other shifts means that I will not be able to see either performance of Sans Objet at the Theatre Royal on May 17th or 18th. It looks amazing. For more information, check out the festival website - http://www.nnfestival.org.uk/festival/early_shows/sans-objet  , or Compagnie 111's pages at http://www.cie111.com/spectacles/sans-objet/

Sans Objet - Photo from NNF


There is time for a quick bite to eat at home before heading back in to the city for tonight's shows at Norwich Arts Centre. First up is Francesca Beard, a Malaysian-born London-based poet whose show A Lie promises to explore the question of whether lying is an art-form, or is actually a basic human need. It is a solo show, during which at one point two members of the audience are called upon to read from scripted dialogues. Other stage props include a can of Diet Coke, a copy of the Daily Mail and a bunch of artificial flowers (do you see what she is doing here?). There is a song composed from lies contributed by previous audiences; there are poems about Francesca's own early memories (have they been distorted by lies or simply by poor recall?); and there are examples of lies and how they are used in relationships, in the media, and in propaganda. It is a thought-provoking hour, laced with both humour and tragedy, but with a fine performance that holds my attention and interest, even during the technical scientific bits. Who imagined that A Lie could deliver so much?

Learn more about Francesca Beard at http://www.francescabeard.com/.

There's a bit of a breather until Hollie McNish's performance starts - time for a pint of Lacon's bitter from the bar, but when we do go back in it is a case of standing room only for this sold-out event. Hollie is introduced onto the stage by Lora Stimson, and we begin with a selection of poems and diary entries read from her book 'Nobody Told Me', all introduced with a candour that characterises the entire show

I'll be honest here. I was never a modern father. My children (now aged 23 and 27) have since left home, and they were born into a home where my late wife did most of the parenting. It was only her death nine years ago that finally opened my eyes to what a fantastic job she had done, and made me realise what a second-rate substitute I really was. I like to think that my respect now for the mothers of today, their pregnancy and the childbirth, is a million miles away from where I, and many other fathers, stood a generation ago.

Hollie is honest, endearing, hilariously funny and yet brutally frank in her exposure of a woman's lot, even today, in describing anecdotally yet so accurately the process of pregnancy and childbirth. This is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what it is like to become responsible for creating, nurturing and producing another human being, the candid revelations of worry, pain, fear, and prejudice that face a mother-to-be, and the courage to stand up and expose us men as the hypocrites than we can sometimes be.

This is not feminist theatre - some of us men of us here tonight may be filled with self-loathing and guilt as our past crimes are described in all their humiliating glory, but we are also delighted to be enlightened, educated and entertained, all within the space of a 75 minute show. 'Nobody Told Me' may be the title of Hollie McNish's book, but to her I would honestly say, 'Thank you Hollie, for telling it to me'. She may claim that some of her poetry is poorly written, but what it might lack in literary finesse it makes up for aplenty in language that comes straight from the heart. Her book should be compulsory reading for every father-to-be, and provides a welcome tonic to every mother.

After a short question and answer session we are invited to a book signing in the foyer of Norwich Arts Centre, and told that we will no way be thought of as cheapskates if we simply present a ticket-stub for signing. As I leave, the queue is stretched as far back as the door. And most people are clutching copies of the book.

Hollie McNish - Picture from NNF

'Nobody Told Me' - can be bought through Hollie McNish's website at https://holliepoetry.com/

Thanks to Writers Centre Norwich and Norwich Arts Centre for hosting both shows - 

And thanks to Norfolk and Norwich Festival for another fantastic and fun-filled day - 

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