Northern Ballet plays host to Leeds Metropolitan University Gallery & Studio Theatre’s Festival of “bite-sized … intimate performances” tantalisingly called “Mezze”. What unites these productions is an intimacy between performer and audience. In each of the pieces the relationship between the watched and the watcher is challenged. This varies from the cosy complicity of the audiences in Laura Mugridge’s Edinburgh Fringe hit “Running on Air” to the more visceral corrosion of the fourth wall in Analogue’s “Lecture Notes on a Death Scene”. Analogue’s previous productions have included similarly unflinching examinations of the anatomy of final moments. “Mile End” dealt with a man pushed under a train and “Beachy Head” with a doctor performing autopsies on those who throw themselves from the eponymous cliff. But “Lecture Notes on a Death Scene” might be their most inventive staging to date. Based on Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 novella “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan” (The Garden of Forking Paths) the technicians and actors work around a single audience member as they work their way through labyrinthine interactive possibilities ultimately leading to the piece’s bleak conclusion.
Faye Draper’s “Tea is an Evening Meal” interrogates the traditional audience-performer relationship in a much gentler way, by inviting you all for tea. The performance is an opportunity to interact with Faye’s personal experience and share your own, all within touching distance of tea, cakes and too much gravy. The piece has been devised in collaboration with Third Angel’s Alex Kellyand both artists have sought to draw together personal experience and factual information to create a fascinating tapestry of stores about what it means to be and feel Northern.
It is possibly in Laura Mugridge’s award-winning “Running on Air” that the cosy informality is taken to its greatest lengths, not least through its idiosyncratic setting. Parked in Northern Ballet’s car park will be Laura’s deep yellow VW (called ‘Joni’) camper van into which audiences of five will be invited to take a journey from Lands End to Edinburgh without ever leaving the Northern Ballet car park and be utterly beguiled by Laura’s richly-detailed experiences of marriage, divorce and camping - including performing to three kestrels.
If you fancy whetting your appetite beforehand or cleansing your palette afterwards, the Northern Ballet foyer will become a space for sugary playlets during the Mezze festival. “Canapé Art”, courtesy of Levantes Dance Theatre, seeks to build and compound these theatrical confections throughout the festival into a durational performance that mischievously explores aspects of human behaviour. If Analogue, Faye Draper and Laura Mugridge are providing the mezze, then Levantes Dance Theatre will be serving-up theatrical baklava. Small, rich, varied, layered and in many ways more fulfilling than a square meal.
Famished? Luckily - stretching out the sticky dough of food metaphor as far as it will possibly go - there’s plenty of Mezze helpings on offer to sate even the most ravenous theatre-going appetite. With thirty-eight performances over three days and a complimentary performance platter in the foyer, this exciting and adventurous little festival will stretch the ideas of theatrical space and audience expectations as far as they can go.
Should all that food analogy put you in the mood for a real square meal, our café bar will be open from 09.00 until 19.00 throughout the festival and visitors are always welcome to come and soak up the atmosphere in the foyer with a drink, snack or meal. But, as with everything Mezze, the boundary between audience and performer is likely to become blurred.
Book for all three now and get them for the discounted rate of £18 (£12 concessions).