Writer, theatre-maker and storyteller John Osborne has created a brand-new show in celebration of his adopted home city. Norwich: A Love Story which also features paintings by local artist Pinch and music from singer-songwriter Jess Morgan, is at Norwich Playhouse on April 11.
From the cobbled streets by the cathedral to the people doing data entry in the open plan offices of Anglian Windows, this is a celebration of the day-to-day lives of the people of Norwich. John told us more about his inspiration for the show.
You came to Norwich for university, rather than growing up here. Do you think that changes your perspective on the place?
I think it probably does. I definitely feel Norwich is somewhere I have chosen to live. I first came here when my twin sister came for an open day at UEA when we were seventeen. I had no intention of going to university, but was persuaded by my mum and dad to go with her to look around. As soon as I stepped onto the campus I knew I had to be there. I worked hard at sixth form and managed to get a place at UEA. I’ve always felt that Norwich is the place I am supposed to be.
The show mixes music, images, and words. How did those collaborations come about?
The show is in two halves – the first half is poems, stories and a performance by Jess Morgan, a brilliant Norwich singer-songwriter and storyteller. When I did a show called The New Blur Album at Norwich Arts Centre she played a Blur song – To The End – and it was one of my highlights of the whole year. It’s always good to be able to work with people, especially if you’re already fans of their work. The same with Pinch, the Norwich artist who created the poster.
The show touches on Norwich’s hospitality for strangers – which has a very specific meaning in the history of the city. How did you research the piece?
Part of the research was just living here for so long and learning the stories of The Strangers. As soon as I heard about the relationship Norwich had with strangers it made so much sense. It really fits in with the feeling the city has. It’s been interesting to explore those traditional ideas in this new story.
How does it differ writing about a real city, rather than somewhere purely fictional? Does it restrict what you can write?
I don’t think it restricts me at all, I’ve loved being very specific about place names, street names, references to cafes and bars. I love specificity in writing. Norwich deserves to be written about by as many people as possible.
How much do people need to know about Norwich before seeing the show?
That’s what I’ve been wondering too! I am performing the show in a couple of other places (using ‘The Strangers’ as a title but I think the Norwichness will shine through.
You’ve written for theatre, radio, and TV. Do you have a favourite medium?
I love theatre. I toured a show called John Peel’s Shed, which meant I was able to perform at beautiful venues like The Crucible in Sheffield and The Lowry in Salford. I love beautiful buildings with big stages and being able to do my own show at Norwich Playhouse is something I never thought was something I’d do. I’m really excited about it, I’ve been working on it a tiny bit every day for months!