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“A fine city.” Compared to other cities – such as Oxford (City of Dreaming Spires) and Edinburgh (Athens of the North) – Norwich’s sobriquet is a somewhat modest and understated affair. And that is all to it’s credit I’d say. It’s charmingly contrary to the current obsession with hyperbole and steadfastly refrains from even the vaguest notion of vulgarity. In fact I’d say that, in addition to being delightfully polite, it’s also impossible to argue with.
There are many things to recommend Norwich: the shopping (apparently, I couldn’t say, it bores the breasts off me), the history and in it 2012 was designated as England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, due in large part to its print trade heritage. But what Norwich really excels in as far as I’m concerned, is excellent venues. The Playhouse, the Arts Centre, Maddermarket, Theatre Royal, UEA, the Puppet Theatre, The Gallery and the Waterfront. Have I forgotten any? Probably – apologies if I have – and that’s not even considering the multitude of quite excellent pubs and bars it has.
It’s always around this time of year that I regret not living closer to Norwich. Once I’d think nothing of driving the two hour round trip on a mid-week night to see a band or comedian with perhaps a late drink thrown in too. But those late night/early morning finishes are just less comfortable than they used to be, particularly when they involve sucking up the freezing spray on the A140 from a trucker who’s making a ludicrously early start. Yeah, I guess it’s age, but even given that I’ll still venture north on a mucky midweek night when the lure proves too strong.
In truth that could be every week as it’s seldom that I take a gander at what’s on in Norwich’s venues and don’t see a multitude of productions, comics and bands I’d like to see and this spring is no exception. Stand up has formed a major part of The Playhouse’s programme since before that was an obvious thing for a venue to do and Andy Parsons, Mark Thomas and Seann Walsh will all be appearing there over the next few months. However, the comedian which I will be heading up there to see is Josie Long. Doubtless there are those whose only encounter with Long is on Radio 4 where, amongst other things, she presents the quite wonderful Shortcuts (of which her gargling-honey voice is a major attraction). But she is also a disarmingly subversive comedian whose observational comedy is laced with those sublime moments when you find yourself laughing like a hyena whilst simultaneously thinking “that’s so true – and it really pisses me off!” If silly, friendly, funny shows about politics and social justice are your thing then The Playhouse on the 18th February should do you well.
Elsewhere this month in Norwich David Hare’s Skylight will be at The Maddermarket. You may have caught the National Theatre Live broadcast starring the brilliant Carey Mulligan and the dull Bill Nighy. It won awards on both sides of the Atlantic in 2015 for best revival of a play, having scooped best play in both Britain and America when it premiered in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Hare’s play of a failed relationship majestically illuminates the grotesque inequality of our society. It should be a belter and the bonus is that you don’t have to watch Bill Nighy do his impression of a lidless pot of paint slowly forming a skin.
The Best Comedy Show award winner from the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe is at the Arts Centre on the 23rd. Richard Gadd: Monkey See, Monkey Do garnered consistent standing ovations during its run last summer although, be warned, it is strong stuff and more than one reviewer commented on its intense revelatory nature. But its undoubtedly clever and its certain you’re unlikely to have seen it’s like before.
Those three shows form just the merest madeleine of what’s on in Norwich over the next few months and that’s without mentioning all the song and dance at the Theatre Royal or the fun to be had at the Puppet Theatre. Fine times in the fine city.