Imagine a piece of literary theatre that takes over a pier and a seaside town and converts it into a Gothic sea fantasy for one day.
The Pavilion Theatre on Cromer’s Edwardian pier is the perfect venue for a piece of literary theatre, but it can be intensely difficult to draw in crowds from North Norfolk with its ageing population, disparate audiences and, of course, erratic weather. I've been imagining a very different, collaborative approach.
The idea of Cromer Gothica is to create more than a seated literary festival, but a one-off piece of literary theatre, with multiple events, surreal ceremonies and literary experiences, music, dance and story booths, set pieces on stage, as well as readings held together with a Master of Ceremonies and his Black Shucks, dogs that help move the audience from one tale to another, from one space to another.
Immersive and cinematic, an auditorium filled with Victorian music hall sounds, projections and sound sculptures. All gathered together around poetry and stories informed by the ideas of sinister storms, hell hounds, the edges of the world, mad seas, sailors and wrecks and ghosts. Lost buildings, lost worlds. Crazy Victoriana. Giant dolls in crimplene skirts and perambulators filled with wolves. Stilt walking dogs. Incantations. Secret gatherings. Pirates and monsters.
The event could draw together companies from around Norfolk: Writers’ Centre Norwich, Norwich Arts Centre, Sheringham Little Theatre have all expressed support, and would be joined by publishers: Ambit, Salt, Unthank to name a few from the region, as well as a gothic bookshop run by Norwich independent bookseller, The Book Hive, held in the foyer of the pier.
The idea would be to draw a creative team from the theatre and other performing communities, and to agree a narrative architecture for the day’s events. A production team would prepare the show and draw upon the existing services in the region. I imagine the events taking their cues from the work of the Wild Workz Theatre Company, that was led by the late great Bill Mitchell — could we invite them to help coordinate the event?
I’m also envisaging that the event will draw upon Norwich’s theatre goers and literary enthusiasts, and may even take over the train station in Norwich to usher in people attending the day’s events and, once in North Norfolk, escorting them from Cromer station to the pier in a kind of Pied Piper carnival walk.
There may be events on the sea front and, as the day comes to an end, a beach party for the writers and participants to celebrate the literature of Norfolk.
There would be one ticket price for the day and people can pick and choose from a Devil’s Menu which events they wanted to attend.
That's what I'm imagining.
It was an open day at Mannington Hall today, the home of Robert Walpole, 10th Baron Walpole. It's a family home and alongside seventeenth- and eighteenth-century portraits, hung in the wood-panelled rooms, there are mantelpieces filled with recent family photos, too. Snaps. Wedding photos. Children smiling. It's a fourteenth-century house with substantial add-ons (you can't quite call them extensions). Outside one lounge of sagging sofas and a serious plaster ceiling, there were ranks of CDs: classical composers alphabetised, English church music and, the entire CD collection of This Sceptred Isle, the 90 part history of the British Empire from the BBC. It is a charming, intimate hall, lived in, slightly fusty — looking through some French windows you see the moat (it has one). What struck me was the sense of another England, a continuous, untouched, living stem of something planted in the 1400s. Perhaps the things central to the Tory core of small C conservatism: preservation, continuity, religious and royal bedrock. For the first time, I really could see it. See it in the gardens. In the children's clubs they run. The Observer’s Guides to Weather, Insects, Birds tucked away in the shelves. It was another England that occupied the one I was standing in. Something forever separate from me and millions like me, parallel, absolute and other.
Over the past fortnight, the poet and novelist Richard Lambert and I have been collaborating for European Poetry Night, an event run by Steven J Fowler and his Enemies Project on behalf of the International Literature Showcase that was held on May 4th 2017 at Dragon's Hall, Writers' Centre Norwich.
It was a terrific evening of readings and performances, each pair of writers bringing something unique to the occasion: fairy tale, rumbustious parody, experimental dialogue, children's stories — even the vague threat of being eaten.