NNF12: Life’s a cabaret in Spiegeltent

Once again the Norfolk and Norwich Festival has taken over Chapelfield Gardens to stage music, cabaret, comedy and some very cheeky burlesque in a traditional wooden tent. SIMON PARKIN reports.

This year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival again sees Chapelfield Gardens hosting music, theatre, comedy and cabaret in a traditional Spiegeltent.

The introduction of the Spiegeltent three years ago proved a huge success, providing gloriously atmospheric surroundings for a diverse range of events — literally everything from tea parties to burlesque — and establishing the city centre park as the hub festivities.

The Spiegeltent seats 350 people in booths, around tables and standing. Everyone is guaranteed to get a fantastically intimate view of some of the best music, comedy, cabaret and burlesque artists, who will be performing everything from physical theatre to stand-up comedy in this most unusual travelling venue.

In case you are wondering, Spiegeltents are hand-hewn pavilions used as travelling dance halls, bars and enter-tainment salons since they were created in the early-20th century.

There are only a hand-full of these unique and legendary 'tents of mirrors' left in the world. Built of wood, mir-rors, canvas, leaded glass and detailed in velvet and brocade, each has its own personality and style.

Since Marlene Dietrich sang Falling In love Again on The Famous Spiegeltent stage in the 1930s, its magic mirrors have reflected thousands of images of artists, audiences and exotic gatherings.

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The idea of bringing such an evocative venue to the festival was the brainchild of former artistic director Jonathan Holloway.

'I've had some of the best nights of my life in Spiegeltents,' he said at the time. 'I'd seen them at other festival and just had to bring one Norwich.'

In its short NNF history, the temporary venue has already seen some amazing performances — if you missed CocoRosie a couple of years ago, you really missed out — and NNF12 promises more of the same.

The programme of Spiegel Lates offers up some real musical treats with performances by psychedelic folk-rockers Trembling Bells (May 14, 10pm, �12, under-25s �5), acclaimed trip-hop collective JuJu (May 12, 7.30pm, �15, under-25s �5) and Americana outfit The Vagabond (May 24, 10pm, �10, under-25s �5), but the real treats are always the more off-the-wall cabaret offering — performances that really hail back to the Spiegeltent's origins.

The fun starts tonight with Bourgeois & Maurice (May 11/12, 10pm, �12, under-25s �5), with a show that's part cabaret, part theatre, part catwalk freak show. The pair merge bitingly witty original songs with slanderous gossip and a truly staggering collection of outfits. With irreverent and gloriously offensive lyrics, their music explores the mundane absurdity of modern life.

There is more cabaret weird later in the week too when The Wau Wau Sisters (May 17-19, 10pm, �12, under-25s �5) take to the stage. Coming to Norwich direct from a sold-out run at Sydney Opera House, New York's bravest and bawdiest duo show you the way as 12 disciples, umpteen cocktails, endless fun and fearless abandon combine in a night of mayhem with a Bacchanalian finale you will never forget.

Superstars of the award-winning La Clique, the sisters serve up a sinful night of chaos, burlesque, comedy and circus.

In between the venue hosts Horse (May 15/16, 7.30pm, �12, under-25s �5) a delightfully dark physical comedy looking at one woman's passion for all things equine. From horse-mad teens to pony-club mothers and even the steeds themselves, performer Flick Ferdinando brings to life a gallery of types and characters in an affectionately wry canter through the world of the horse and the horsey.

Blending a mix of circus cabaret, performance and dance, award-winning Ferdinando's one-woman show is visually arresting, absurd and just a little bit risqu�.

Others not to miss include The Bevvy Sisters (May 13/14, 7.30pm, �12, under-25s �5) with their spine-tingling harmonies mix vibrant folk, vintage Americana, jazzy soul and classy originals; Lili La Scala (May 22/23, 7.30pm, �10, under-25s �5), who with her vintage pin-up looks and the voice of a nightingale offers a gentle nod to Gracie Fields, Flanders and Swann and many more; and inventive mime stand-up The Boy With Tape On His Face (May 24, 7.30pm, �12, under-25s �5), who combines the sheer, childlike absurdness of Vic Reeves with the deft, physical intonation of Charlie Chaplin.

The Spiegeltent stays open until 1am from Monday to Thursday, 2am Friday and Saturday and midnight on Sundays throughout the festival, so even after events are over the party goes on.

The programme also boasts three lunchtime Ragroof Tea Dances (May 13/20, 12pm, �5) — events that have been great fun in previous years.

And there is some serious dancing too at The Lucky 7 Festival Club which sees the Spiegeltent spring into 'late night' action every Friday and Saturday during the festival, with a host of special guests from across the programme.

The Lucky 7 DJs will keep you jumping, strutting and spinning. Entry is free to ticket-holders for either earlier Spiegeltent show that night.

A limited amount of extra tickets will also be available on the door – but get there early to avoid disappointment!

There will be an extra special Lucky 7 Festival Closing Party too (May 26, tickets �10).

See you on the dancefloor…