My first trip to this years Norfolk and Norwich Festival was to see Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. A seven hour production about life, death and the passing of time.
As you can see I wasn’t going to ease myself into the festival slowly- I was going in headfirst with no idea what I was about to see. It’s so rare for me to go and see a production where I know nothing about what is going to happen, and that is what made me so excited for the day.
Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. was created by Quarantine, who formed in 1998. They devise original theatre, performance and public events with and about the people in it. An incarnation of this show has been performed before, but as they use people from the local area and the stories they bring- no show is ever the same.
Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. consisted of three live performances and one film. And that is all I knew going in.
Summer started almost with out you realising it. Just a woman named Leentje casually talking to the audience, discussing what she sees and guessing what audience members could be like. She also went on to explain how Summer would work. There was a screen in front of the audience that had suggested directions for us, and behind us were the directions for the performers- completely new each show. Right from the start Leentje was very funny and her humor ran fluidly through the three performance pieces.
The best way to describe summer was chaos- after the initial stillness of the piece as the 30-odd performers came into the space -it soon became up beat and a fun chaotic atmosphere. It was enjoyable to watch the performers react to their instructions and try and figure things out. They had instructions such as stand in height order, age order and political party to ones such as put a cardboard box on your head and dance like no one is watching, well, at least that is what I understood…
As an audience member I had to make the decision to either just watch and try and figure out what they were doing, or turn around every now and again and read what they were instructed to do. It made me feel like part of the performance too.
The performers on stage were all local people aged 3-80(ish) and their personalities really came through, no more so than when they brought out some of their belongings and put them on show for the audience to see. If you are in anyway nosy this production is for you – as the show went on Leentje would pause people to ask them random questions, some serious and some funny. It gave Summer real heart, getting to know these people whilst they let loose in front of you. It must have been a little daunting for them but you couldn’t tell.
Summer then transitioned into Autumn.
In Autumn. sections we set up and we were allowed to move freely among the tables taking part as much as we wanted to.These sections were all run by performers from Summer. who’s every day talents were able to be used, such as cookery, clairvoyance, teachers and speakers.
During the two hours of Autumn. I added my name to the “Six Degrees of Separation” table, took part in making Summer Rolls in “The Preserve of Others” and then found myself sitting in a group for the rest of the time telling “The History of The world” from the Big Bang right up to that moment. The one rule was that you could only go forward, no back tracking. This made it all very entertaining as you realised (especially in my case) that there are gaps in your knowledge about huge periods of time. As a group we all had our periods which we knew a lot about, but saying that, we still managed to miss out the Ice Age.
And the Vikings…
But we were really good with Renascence, Enlightenment and Revolutions. And personal moments such as getting cats, or getting married.
But yeah…. the Ice Age was pretty important.
Autumn. transitioning into Winter. was like a small performance within itself. As the chairs and tables were cleared away we the audience sat and watched as the stage crew silently set up the cinema screen and swept the stage.
Winter. was a moving film about Mandy King-Holmes, looking into the last few months of her life. She discussed growing up, and her understanding of having no future. The film followed a similar concept to Summer. with the same style of Q+A and moments of stillness. Whilst watching Winter. I started to notice the little repeating motifs that had been appearing throughout the performances, such as falling confetti. This tied the pieces up and made the whole thing feel like one show.
Winter. moved into Spring. and the final part of this quartet.
I found Spring. hilarious. The performers for this season were either expectant mothers or mothers with young babies. AND the babies. Who were adorable and such characters, left to play on the stage to their hearts content.
Spring. consisted of the mothers singing karaoke songs on a “baby”theme, such as “Hit Me Baby One More Time” or “Babe” by Take That to other songs such as “Shake It Off” By Taylor Swift and ending on “Atomic“by Blondie. None of the women were professional singers, but all could sing and gave it all they had!
Interspersed throughout all this the Q+A motif continued, asking the women what their plans were for the future, and about their past. All the time the babies were causing chaos on stage, pushing chairs around, throwing cups and being just cute! They kept the audience laughing (and awwwing) all the time.
Spring. came to an end with some questions and concerns that the mothers had about their child’s future projected on the board . It was another comical yet moving moment that was a running theme throughout this quartet.
Leentje brought the production to a close similar to how it opened, talking to us in the audience. I left the venue feeling like I had witnessed a year and felt optimistic about the future.
If Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. comes to a town near you in the future I do recommend it. The stories and performers will be different and maybe more relevant to you, but the heart of the piece remains the same and it really is moving. (Don’t be put off by the length of the day either, it really did fly by.)
So that is my first piece about this years Norfolk and Norwich Festival, kind of a report review as I wanted to write more about the individual experience that an audience member would have rather than just reviewing the performance. Especially as that is ever changing. But I had a lot of fun and made some new friends too, as you can’t help but talk to the people sharing in this experience with you.
I imagine tomorrow will be more of a review!
(Photos from of Quarantine.)