NNF13: It’s a cabaret in the Spiegeltent

Circa's Beyond: Image: Benjamin Knapton

Circa's Beyond: Image: Benjamin Knapton - Credit: Archant

Once again the Norfolk and Norwich Festival has taken over Chapelfield Gardens to stage music, cabaret, comedy and some cheeky burlesque in a traditional wooden theatre. 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 four 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.'

New NNF artistic director has continue the idea — though its been such a success who would consider dropping it? 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 NNF13 promises more of the same.

In a similarly cabaret-inspired musical style this year sees the return of the hugely popular The Tigers Lillies (May 18-19, £12). The post-punk cabaret kings, and their dark and peculiar musical world, are surely perfect for the Spiegeltent.

Other-worldly vocals tell stories of the seamy side of life as violence rubs shoulders with despair, melancholy and exquisitely beautiful music combine, whilst irony and a twisted humour are never far away. Their act is a seductive fusion of pre-war Berlin cabaret, anarchic opera and gypsy music.

A fusion of the rib-tickling, the awe-inspiring, the sensational and the downright surreal, Les Enfants Perdus (May 17-20, £15) has been commissioned this year for bring a brand new show specially for the festival and the result is a modern day variety show with a twist of decadence.

Featuring contortionism, acrobatics, comedy and burlesque – gravity is optional and nothing is quite what it seems in the strange and virtuosic world of Les Enfants Perdus.

Having stunned festival audiences with How Like An Angel, which they will again be staging, Circa, heralded as one of the great cabaret-circus companies, make it a double festival residency in 2013 with the world premiere of their new Spiegeltent show, Beyond (May 21-24, £15).

Beyond ventures into a world where contemporary circus and absurd animalistic beauty fuse together, forming daring and challenging acrobatic feats, blurring the line between human and beast.

Alice in Wonderland meets 1001 Nights in this daring, quirky new cabaret where bodies twist, fly, drop and contort. The audience will enter a world where Rubix cubes, white rabbits and silks meld seamlessly with acrobatics, movement and sound. Dare to discover the animal within and what makes us truly human. Sounds intriguing.

One slight disappointment already this year has been the cancellation of cabaret superstar Meow Meow's unique kamikaze cabaret kitsch performance Feline Intimate. However don't be too downhearted, she has been replaced at the last minute by pop mash-up duo Frisky and Mannish (May 23-24, £12).

The musical comedy cabaret duo — Laura Corcoran and Matthew Floyd Jones — stormed the Edinburgh Fringe with their sell-out debut show School of Pop in 2009. They'll be bringing their new show Extra Curricular Activities — no-holds-barred, full-throttle, take-no-prisoners hit of F&M, featuring classic F&M staples such as Kate Bash, Carpenters Grime, Bee Gees' Rude Boy, Beep and their famous Stalker Medley.

There will be more music of a slightly more serious nature with performances from multi-award winning kings of gypsy cabaret Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen (May 21, £12), who return after a four-year hiatus with their mix of music, theatre and black humour.

And frontman and torch bearer for the much loved Penguin Café, Arthur Jeffes brings his new project Sundog (May 22, £12) which sees him taking the warm and melodious sounds of Penguin Café one step further. Stripped back, but no less emotive, his piano playing takes centre stage, throwing in elements of electronic and world-inspired instrumentations.

There is a double dose of Norwich cabaret organisers Bo Nanafana Social Club this year too. They'll help launch the Spiegeltent programme with a First Night Swing (May 17, £10) party, then will welcome the Congo Faith Healers (May 25, £10) for a voodoo rockabilly dirty blues swampfest of a closing night.

The daytime dancing is always popular too and there are two Ragroof Tea Dances this year. All that Jazz! (May 18, £8) will include dazzling demos; instant dance classes; authentic tunes – and the chance to swing, lindy, jump and jive all afternoon. Then things go Latin for Fiesta Latino! (May 25, £8).

See you on the dancefloor…