N&N Festival, Reverse review: you quickly become blasé about not seeing where you’re going

Reverse. Picture: Supplied by Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2019

Reverse. Picture: Supplied by Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2019 - Credit: Supplied by Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2019

The concept of Reverse is simple: walk backwards around the city, getting a new view on Norwich. The outcome is something much more profound.

Perhaps I'm too familiar with the city's vistas to get much of a surprise from the viewpoints offered on this winding tour around the centre of Norwich. The opening view of St John's Cathedral from Chapelfield Gardens is a delight, but except from some surprising detours through the innards of The Forum and Norwich Castle there is not much new to see here.

What there is is a revelation as to how your own senses operate. Kitted out with headphones that provide a witty and evocative soundtrack as you traverse the urban landscape, you walk backwards following a white taped line, guided by special symbols showing changes of direction, steps, and other obstacles. There are also, thankfully, strategically-placed volunteers on hand to save you from striding obliviously into oncoming traffic.

The white line itself is oddly liberating. Armed with the knowledge that in the days of lawsuits and health and safety the route must have been though dozens of risk assessments, you quickly become blasé about not seeing where you're going. Gentleman's Walk - normally a game of dodgems looking out for pushchairs, proselytisers, and the Puppet Man becomes disconcertingly tranquil: you just trust people will get out of your way. (And, perhaps thanks to you being a weirdo walking backwards wearing headphones, they do just that - alongside a bit of pointing).

You became acutely aware of the slightest incline - Hay Hill never felt so steep - and not just your direction but your perception of spaces becomes reversed. Outdoor spaces, objectively more exposed and threating, feel carefree whereas interiors provoke more nervousness, with their narrow circulation strips and immovable barriers. Somehow the texture of surfaces become more tangible: moving from stone, to wood, to grass, is distinct in a way that normally is barely perceived.

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Artist Johannes Bellinkx's concept looks simple and silly. The experience is anything but.

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