Last Saturday lunchtime, my boyfriend and I headed to the Leeds Playhouse for an afternoon performance of ‘The Promise of a Garden’, which combined dance, music, drama, photography and art, was co-produced by Leeds Playhouse, The Performance Ensemble, Leeds Older People’s Forum and Leeds 2023 and was directed by Alan Lyddiard.
The performance tells the tale of nature, how it became a friend in lockdown, and takes the audience through a series of scenes that depict parks, pastures, allotments and gardens, and how each of these spaces helped the cast through the tough times over the past eighteen months or so.
On arrival at the Quarry Theatre, my boyfriend and I were uncertain about what to expect. We had read the overview of the performance, and so were aware that it was being delivered by a company of older artists who were going to tell their personal stories, visions and dreams of times past, present and future, all whilst creating an on stage garden, but this overview didn’t really give much away, and so we went into the Playhouse with open minds.
When we found our seats, we saw that handmade flowers had been placed on them. This was a nice touch which made me smile before the performance even started. When it did start, it began with dance. Namron Yarrum took to the stage and performed a moving routine that suggested flowers, growth and movement. I loved to see that he was so nimble and rhythmic, and thought it inspiring that he was still making the most of his talents. This overall feeling of awe and inspiration continued throughout the entire performance and planted a seed in my mind to remind myself to always make the most of my talents and abilities, no matter my age.
As the performance continued, more members of the company took to the stage. Each of them had the opportunity to tell their unique stories, either through spoken word, dance, song or playing an instrument. I loved hearing stories of how the members had come to be in Leeds and what they had done in their careers. As the stories were being told, the garden was being built and important messages about nature were being shared.
I thought it was cool to see how the company used theatre to discuss an important message about nature and highlight its role in our happiness over recent times. I liked how the company made great use of the space, not only with their performances but also with how they used props and the set. These were not elaborate, but what there was had been cleverly thought through and was designed well with members of the company pulling the pieces together. At one point they pulled the grass over the stage as they danced, which was particularly engaging.
It was also lovely to see the flower rugs being laid, because each flower had been handmade by a member of the Leeds community as part of the 5000 Flowers Project which invited people to craft a unique flower, created from natural fibres, for the garden. This was truly a celebration of Leeds as a creative city and gave a range of people the opportunity to show what nature meant to them during the last year or so.
The Promise of a Garden was a unique and uplifting performance that shared an important message about nature whilst also celebrating the talents and stories of a generation that is often not included in theatre. Parts of the performance were unusual and most of it was simply fabulous.
I particularly loved the harpsichord section where one of the cast told the story of how he came to have the instrument, and then set about singing English Country Garden in German.
More of these, please! We will always need performers who can lift us to better places, even if just for a short time.
Cover photograph: David Hamilton and Tamara McLorg.