Bereft. That’s what we are. The Northern Ballet foyer no longer bristles with the wary fascination of bystanders as Levantes Theatre mixed cupcakes, made paper-chains, flew paper aeroplanes, and scattered confetti into the early gloaming. The car park is no longer fronted by Laura Mugridge’s deep yellow camper van – part performance, part squatter. Tea is no longer served four times a day, nor can one have an exclusive audience with one’s roads-not-travelled six times a day. In short, Mezze’s over and I’m miffed.
It was wonderful to have the mini-festival here and all three productions were a real success. Audiences came out of Lecture Notes on a Death Scene moved to tears, stunned, confused, and always enthusiastic. In my own case, I came out feeling rather rested.
This was not what I expected. I was pretty scared of entering into a theatrical labyrinth of another’s making. I loathe audience-participation, I’m not altogether unafraid of the dark, and I don’t like anything that thinks it’s cleverer than me. Lecture Notes promised to be all three. But, as it turned out, was none of the above. It was actually something of a sanctuary. The questions posed by the piece provide ample scope for introspection and reflection. The atmosphere was treacle-thick in there as you felt the performers move and appear around you, creating inter-locking narratives from darkness, mirrors, spots of light and snatched dialogue. But I felt thoroughly comfortable in their presence and trusted their ability to bring things to life for me. I had a comfortable chair, a glass of water and an excellent view into the heart of darkness. Bliss.
In fact, I realised that much of what puts me off going to the theatre is other audience members. I once sat through Wall-E while the woman next to me flossed. She ate her popcorn and, dentally conscious but socially oblivious, she flossed her way through the fluffy film. If, as Sartre sort of said in “Huis Clos”, “hell is other people”, Lecture Notes on a Death Scene was manna.
I couldn’t get in to see Tea is an Evening Meal or Running on Air, so popular were they. But the audiences doted on these pieces and Laura said that one of her audiences was the best she’s ever had. Well done all five of you. You know who you are.
So, naturally, I’m in mourning. Fortunately I’ve got someone to help me with the process. Ellie Harrison’s Etiquette of Grief (Thursday 12 May) will provide a roadmap through the grieving process. There have been some extraordinary outpourings of public grief in recent years. The funerals of Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and Jade Goody have undeniably captured the public imagination and, after seeing the overwhelming responses which have flowed in the wake of the aforementioned departed, it’s something to which we owe much marvelling and analysis. Ellie and her electronic “other” will take you through the phenomenon of grief with tipples, balloons and the enduring question of what it is we do when we grieve.
Don’t Just Sit There
And there’s nothing better to facilitate the grieving process than keeping busy. Just as well then, in the cradle of serendipity that is the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, there’s a Don’t Just Sit There(DJST) performance on Friday 13 May. DJST aims to teach people about their bodies and increase participation in sport and physical activity using dance, physical theatre, music, sport and alternative movement forms. It’s a kaleidoscopic ambition that brings together Northern Ballet, Education Leeds, Lishi, Rotherham-based Open Minds Theatre Company, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Marketing Leeds and the Rugby Football League. All of whom have harnessed their resources to tackle the huge risks to quality of life arising from sedentary lifestyles. Passivity will not be permitted, audience participation and activity are vital. I’d be horrified if it didn’t sound all too exciting for anyone to floss. As a receptionist and generally horizontal sort of bear, I can only fully endorse such an ambition and may even leave the reception chair that is nearly hewn to my person in order to participate. This Friday is the zenith of so much work and co-operation and promises to be a special event.