5×15: Bodies

This Writers’ Centre Norwich event brought together five speakers for a diverse set of 15 minute talks on our often frustrating and surprising bodies.

Suzanne O’Sullivan spoke about treating broad manifestations of epilepsy: not just commonly-known seizures, but symptoms like uncontrolled running. Research has moved on from hitting parts of the brain with spatulas to targeted surgery to prevent incidents.

Jack Hartnell protested that medieval medics get a bad wrap; while their ideas might not have lasted, some themes and concepts are paralleled in today’s approaches.

Rachel Clarke opened with the shocking statement that “dying is my day job”, going on to speak movingly on palliative care and the power of storytelling in an area of the NHS not easily captured in numbers and targets.

Aarathi Prasad gave a fascinating and challenging insight into how little we know about reproduction, from the ancient non-human retro virus that makes pregnancy possible, to the chimera-like individuals whose DNA defies convention.

GP Gavin Francis rounded off the talks looking at how we change throughout our lives, from puberty grow spurts to mental changes, and down to a microbial level how our blood shapeshifts to carry oxygen.

Manual for Heartache

Reading from his debut book Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, Max Porter said it was too hot in the bejewelled Spiegeltent surroundings to get in to the really heavy stuff – as if the extracts he delivered with such brave force were easy words.

Alongside Richard Beard (The Day That Went Missing) and Cathy Rentzenbrink (The Last Act of Love), Porter gave honest insights into their experiences of writing about grief, covering both fictional versions and troubling personal memoirs.

Beard spoke of his family’s ‘unblacking’ of the day one of his brothers died, and Rentzenbrink the slow loss of her older brother and the way memories mutate over time, both having wrestled with writing about their experiences for many years.

These were sensitive and dark topics for a summer’s day but also a reminder that human connections and creativity can come from difficult places, if we’re prepared to wallow just a while.

Molotov Jukebox

If the Spiegeltent hadn’t been standing for a week you might have worried for its structural integrity, such was the thumping, stamping raucous reception afforded to Molotov Jukebox.

Providing the final night musical send off for this year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival, this melting-pot band bought strains of gypsy, ska, reggae and rap to the glittering venue.

Cleared of the usual seating the sell-out Saturday night audience was free to dance, shout and generally sweat-out the two week festival, giving very vocal appreciation to the six-piece fronted by Game of Thrones and Harry Potter actress Natalia Tena.

Tena’s fine sparky singing and accordion playing mix with Sam Apley’s violin and Angus Moncrieff’s trumpet to form the bedrock of the band’s sound. Bassist Tom Wilson suffered from a few early feedback problems but they didn’t daunt anyone either on or off stage, preferring to keep diving headlong into the music.

From the high-octane notes of Something For The Weekend and Gypsy Funeral to the more tender pacing of Trying and Don’t Panic this was an explosive set and a brilliant end to the main portion of the festival – but with their first album Carnival Flower only recently released this could be just the start for Molotov Jukebox.

Camille O’Sullivan

I have a new infatuation, and her name is Camille O’Sullivan.

Concerts can sometimes be pedestrian affairs but with O’Sullivan this isn’t just about fantastic music, it’s also about overwhelming spectacle.

The Irish singer has a world-class voice that flexes from gravelly and aggressive rock to the purest, tenderest tones and a stage presence that demands to be observed.

Each song is a piece of theatre in miniature: her skirt hitched up for a raucous rendition of Jacque Brel’s Port of Amsterdam; wearing masks for an intimidating romp through Tom Wait’s God’s Away on Business; still and pensive for a tear-jerking performance of Declan O’Rourke’s Galileo; perched intimately on the edge of the stage for Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No 2; donning killer sparkling red heels and ending up on her back for Kirsty MacColl’s In These Shoes?

It’s clear that O’Sullivan loves to perform and she should: she is brilliant at it. Her personality – and love for spontaneous miaowing – is infectious, and it’s obvious why she has a loyal following for her live shows: after just one show I’m joining it.

There are a few tickets left for her final show on Wednesday: snap them up if you can, it’s a festival must.

Beyond

They’ve saved the best for (nearly) last: Circa’s Beyond is the pick of this year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

The cast is the same as the company’s phenomenal How Like An Angel and although there are some shared motifs this show has a very different energy: not least because of the more carnival-like surroundings of the Spiegeltent.

This is an explosion of noise, colour and movement, with outlandish costumes (giant bunny heads abound) and an eclectic mix of music that takes in Bonnie Tyler and Rage Against The Machine.

The ensemble show exceptional strength working together and flair and wit alone: once you’ve seen Rowan Heydon-White battle on a trapeze and then the way she solves a Rubik’s cube, you’ll wonder if there’s anything she can’t do.

Paul O’Keeffe is an excellent comic tumbler, failing and falling but always with total control, and Skip Walker-Milne would be impressive on the pole even if he wasn’t wearing a bear suit. That he is makes the whole thing all the more wondrous.

Bridie Hooper and Billie Wilson-Coffey work magic on the aerial silks – the audience seemed too engrossed at times to remember to clap – and show sublime suppleness on the ground. The crowd were completely charmed by Gerramy Marsden’s cigar box and balance tricks too.

There are only a handful of tickets left. Do whatever you can to get one.

Great Distraction of 2010

Burlesque was back in Norwich for the first day of the 2010 Norfolk and Norwich Festival – and it was as camp as a row of Spiegeltents.

Hosted in the impressively glam surrounds of the Chapelfield big top, the Great Distraction show was curated by New York performer Julie Atlas Muz and featured music, acrobatics, side show comedy and performances that defy detailed description in a family newspaper.

The audience, including many who’s outfits matched the spirit of the evening, lapped up the nipple-tasselled theatrics of Miss Dirty Martini, and got very much involved in the antics of Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey’s simian ballet. Sound confusing and chaotic? Well, that’s the Great Distraction.

There was some noticeable seat-shifting during Mat Fraser’s Seal Boy circus sideshow routine, with many unsure whether it was right to laugh at a disability – even one highlighted by someone facing it – but that was the only uncertain moment in the show.

Ms Muz’s own spots combined dance, humour, film noir and a healthy sprinkling of nudity; basically burlesque at its best. Definitely a distraction that holds your attention.