Image shared by Third Angel on Flickr via a CC license
Every time I come to Leeds I’m more and more impressed with what the venues and companies here are doing. This Thursday it was the turn of the Mezze festival, from the brilliant team at the Leeds Met Gallery and Studio Theatre, hosted by and in the Northern Ballet building. A mini festival of participatory and intimate performance, Mezze was transforming and importing spaces in and around the venue, 3 of which I was able to get to see.
Running on Air was the first piece I saw/did, a piece from the comedian Laura Mugridge performed in her yellow WV T2 camper van, ‘Joni’. In a break from tradition I am going to try and describe a small performance I enjoyed without using the words ‘intimate’ and ‘gentle’; it was both these things, but they don’t do justice to the feeling that her storytelling imparts. Instead I would compare it very much to feeling of camping as a child. Quietly magical, slightly wild, with a feeling of ‘playing house’; made of plastic cups and tiny sinks and a tin opener that doesn’t quite work; everything a brightly coloured representative of real-life counterparts. Mugridge’s cried tears as Joni repeatedly breaks down fill glasses that become musical instruments, paper mâché hills stand in for the real thing, memories seep into the cracks and suddenly the driving wheel is a paper plate. A warmly told story about always being a bit lost, I left Running on Air feeling like Laura was one of my best friends. Which is a cheat-y way of saying ‘gentle’ and ‘intimate’.
Lecture Notes on a Death Scene was the second piece I took part in. A piece for one audience member by the emerging company Analogue, Lecture Notes was a more challenging piece to decipher (no bad thing). A story that traces it’s route like the tree branches of life it describes, occasionally letting you glimpse the paths that branch off, the versions of yourself that fall by the wayside. A piece about feeling lost, strangely visited, and bereaved by a version of yourself you maybe wish you were, played out using mirrors, angles, reflections and in a hoody that smelled like Boy. Lecture Notes contained some magical* moments, watching a figure pass before you in a tiny hole you make in a picture of their image, a head that rests gently against your shoulder (I willed that moment to last longer, perhaps it’s right that it didn’t). It was still hampered by a few niggles in the methods of interaction, but overall a tricksy piece about tricksy ideas, and the loneliness of the long-distance academic. Something with which I can certainly empathise.
Tea is an Evening Meal by Faye Draper (supported by Northern Stages and THE AMAZING** Third Angel) finished the evening in magnificent style. A show that immediately puts its audience at ease with the simple act of having tea and biscuits on the table; Draper explores different versions of the ritual of tea, tea-making, dinner, food, and family that run through English life. The chatty and playful audience of 11 that I was a part of were effortlessly guided through with laughter, Draper’s own stories and ideas, as well as the guises of many other families and characters, all of them in the act of Tea. Each part, each person with their own rituals (do you warm the pot?), rites, and rules. Despite not being a tea drinker, and also being the only person who’s happy to eat spaghetti bolognaise off their lap (my flat doesn’t have a table!) I still felt warmly invited into this piece, and left the table grinning.
It struck me that much of the work I saw as part of Mezze had a different tint to that of a similar ilk I’ve experienced in London on Bristol, namely a more welcoming tone. Oftentimes subverted, but working with an audience that seemed much more varied in age and background which (I suppose) necessitates a more rounded approach. Is this something about the North? The audiences themselves? Or the programming? Something I think I shall be stewing on.
In the meantime There are still more exciting Mezze shows to happen, including the excellent, excellent Search Party, and the highly recommended Ellie Harrison, so if you are in or around Yorkshire, get thee to the Mezze!
To find out more check out http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/arts/performances.htm
Follow @gallerytheatre on twitter
And follow @Analogue_ @playfulfaye and @mugridgemagic for the artists. (I’ll make these proper links as soon as I’m not having to do it via HTML in the mobile wordpress client.)
Extra thanks should go to the fantastic Jim from the Gallery and Studio Theatre, as well as his brilliant programming, he managed to sort out a slew of mis-bookings I can only assume I made whilst half asleep. THANKS JIM!
*in a realistic sense – like a magic trick, wonder-full, left amazed by both magic and trick.
** full disclosure: I’m on their [AMAZING] board