Oh cheeky...festival cabaret kings and queens

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 has again seen Chapelfield Gardens hosting music, theatre, comedy and cabaret in a traditional Spiegeltent.

The introduction of the Spiegeltent two 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 opera 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 director Jonathan Hollo-way.

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

Last year the temporary venue saw some amazing performances — if you missed CocoRosie, you really missed out — and NNF11 promises more of the same.

The programme of Spiegel Lates offers up some real musical treats with performances by critically lauded folk queen Eliza Carthy and jazz innovators The Portico Quartet, 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 the European premiere of Cantina (May 6-9/11-14, 8pm, �15, under-25s �5), a production by Australia's most well respected creators of new circus Strut and Fret.

A brilliant cast join forces in this spectacular classic of vaudeville, magic, music and remarkable displays of dance and acrobatics — which doesn't stint on the nudity.

Set in the seediest of drinking holes, Cantina explores the rapture and torture of desire, and the tension between harsh reality and escapist fantasy.

The inhabitants of the Cantina find refuge in this late-night world of seduction, sweat and tequila. Their extraordinary feats contrast with the heartbreak of their lives.

One of the biggest names on the cabaret circuit takes the stage later this weekend. Meow Meow (May 8, 10pm, �10, under-25s �5) brings her latest show Beyond Glamour.

The post post-modern showgirl navigating the unchartered territory between Weimar-era wit, 1930s Shanghai show tunes, 60s French pop and post-punk hilarity. It's a parody of glitz and high art that defies categorisation. Purr-fect.

With the swagger of a Balkan wedding band and the riotous energy of Latin carnival, the music of Orkestra del Sol (May 9, 10.30pm, �10, under-25s �5) is globally inspired, but distilled in Scotland.

Their delightful reinvention of the brass band takes diverse influences and creates a living, breathing, polka-ing, pogo-ing honkstep for the 21st century that is sure to have the Spiegeltent jumping.

Probably not as lively as for this year's brilliant Bo Nanafana Social Club happening (May 10, 7.30pm, �20) that is muy excitado to be whisking you off to Cuba for its NNF11 extravaganza.

First-up, will be the funny and flamboyant Cuban Brothers, complete with funky tunes and fantastic dance-moves. Then the Ska Cubano takes to the stage with its perfectly mixed infectious Jamaican ska and Cuban mambo, fronted by sharp-suited Natty Bo. With a spicy salsa dance class led by Jose Ferrera and Lily Campbell and cool scratchy tunes from The Shellac Collective, all hosted by Pete Dobbing.

Its party-time, Havana-style. Feathers, flowers, fine suits and fedoras a must.

The programme then continues next weekend with a visit from New York City's daring duo Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey who will be presenting a shockingly entertaining night of acrobatic striptease and absurdity.

Hosted by Albert Cadabra and bringing together some of their favourite circus performers, including the lithe Russian contortionist Ekaterina the Great and Mr Gorgeous, the Gentle Circus Giant, Trixie and Monkey, in Brilliant Stupdity, they've created a rowdy show overflowing with smart sexiness. Expect to see flipping, stripping, magic, glamour, contortion, singing, spanking and plenty of spandex.

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 (12.30pm, �3.50) — events that have been great fun in previous years.

In The Mood (May 8) offers a chance to test out your quickstep, jitterbug and jive to the sounds of the 1940s. Ballroom Blitz (May 10) recreates the glamorous heyday of ballroom dancing, with lessons to get you going should you need them. Then Takes Two To Tango (May 12) heads to South America with tempestuous tangos and roman-tic rumbas.

See you on the dancefloor…