In review: Rear View at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival
Writing and photography by Kate Cooper, MA Fashion Alumni.
Held annually, the Norfolk & Norwich Festival is a prominent arts festival in the East of England with the city of Norwich coming alive with shows, exhibitions and performances attended by 75,000 people. MA Fashion Alumna, Kate Cooper attended ‘Rear View’, a live art experience and moving adventure in a custom built bus with performances from poets journeying across Norwich.
I went to the performance of Rear View with limited knowledge about the experience, a performance by IOU Theatre as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. I knew it involved ‘interactive elements’ and a bus, but that was about it. I arrived at The Great Hospital where the show was to begin with a little trepidation, walked past a very odd-looking bus, took a few #selfies, and waited.
"Experiencing Norwich in such a unique way made the cityscape part of the performance, reminding me how much I love my city!"
Kate Cooper, MA Fashion Alum
As the show began, we were ushered into a room filled with easels, a blank sheet of paper pinned to each, one for each participant. The easels were facing a table at the front of the room, upon which sat a single chair. There were finished sketches of a female life model hanging from the walls. We were ready to start our ‘life-drawing class’, the as-yet unspoken expectation that we were awaiting the arrival of our model.
The Class Tutor spoke to us for a few minutes, explaining that the aim of the experience was for us each to be ‘in the moment’ at all times and we were asked to switch our phones off and use our memory banks to record the evening instead. I felt slightly guilty for taking a snap of him to upload to Instagram even as he spoke!
The audience adopted this attitude of mindfulness, of being fully present in each moment, via every element of the performance. We began by being instructed to place our hands on the paper in front of us, then to draw around our fingers using a pencil. We were encouraged to do this slowly, experiencing the sensation of the pencil between our fingers.
The tutor then left us to ‘fetch the model’, leading us to believe that it was the same person depicted in the sketches on the wall; a mature, voluptuous woman, who had learned through time to become fully at ease in her own skin. Instead, a fully-clothed young woman appeared, preempted by her own disembodied voice, which began speaking to us of her experience of inhabiting her own body. This began our journey. After listening to the character speaking for a while, we were led outside and onto the bus.
We each put on a set of headphones, then we set off on our drive, facing away from the direction of travel. Being unable to see where we were going, only where we had been, meant that we were subject to the experience of the moment, rather than agents in creating it.
Throughout most of the journey we could hear the voice of the character we had met in our ears- her reflections on her own story and experiences. At various points we paused our journey and she reappeared in the street, at one point outside Fishergate apartments, at another, outside the Red Lion pub (where we were waved at by enthusiastic patrons) only to disappear again as we moved on. The only continuity was her voice.
I have to admit, I would struggle to repeat any specifics of the protagonist’s monologues; the whole experience took on a sort of hypnotic quality. The headphones served to isolate each of us in our own experience of sounds and sights, and while the tone of the stories seemed sweetly melancholic, the effect on the listener was pure relaxation.
I was particularly fortunate to experience the evening performance of Rear View, throughout which the sun was in the process of setting, and the sky was performing some theatrics of its own! Experiencing Norwich in such a unique way made the cityscape itself part of the performance, and made me remember again how much I love my city!
As we alighted the bus at the end of the performance, I felt like I was waking up from a strange sort of dream, my mind refreshed and ready to go and have ideas.
I think I would like to see Rear View introduced as part of a healthy daily routine. I think it’s the new Yoga.