During the pandemic precious time spent in the great outdoors has kept many people safe as they strolled round parks or tended their allotments and gardens.
In response a team of older performers have decided to create a new botanical paradise on the vast Quarry space at Leeds Playhouse where they will share their personal stories, visions and dreams of times past, present and future creating a garden out of nothing
The Promise of a Garden is a show that will blend performance, dance, music, film and photography to create blossoming moments of joy and reflection.
Our Yorkshire Editor Paul Clarke asked Alan Lyddiard who is directing The Promise of a Garden to find out what audiences might expect
The Promise of a Garden is billed as an unusual hybrid production so what audiences can expect to see?
“When you, as an audience member, arrive in the theatre, it’s a completely empty space. You are introduced to 30 people – 30 performers and gardeners – who will then set about creating a garden in front of your eyes in the space of an hour and a half.
“As they’re building the garden, they’re sharing stories from their lives. The production is full of dance, music, visual imagery, projections and photographs – it’s full of life – but it’s not a play or a musical or a ballet. It’s a complete piece of theatre – a unique piece of theatre that only these people can perform because it’s created from their experiences and their lives.
“The 30 people at the heart of The Promise of a Garden are the subject matter of the piece. These are real life stories; stories from the heart.”
Tell us more about the garden?
“It’s a fantastical garden, not a real garden. It started life with me thinking about the Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. I wanted our garden to be just as visceral and exciting and vibrant.
“Hundreds of people across the city have made flowers for our garden using whatever they have to hand. They’ll be able to see their contribution – their own creativity – on stage as our company of older performers grows our communal garden.”
You’re working with a company of older artists so how important is it that their voices are heard in the Playhouse?
“Life is a beautiful thing made up of beautiful moments. Sometimes by sharing the seemingly insignificant moments they become meaningful; moments we can all recognise. Audiences will recognise and empathise with the performers’ issues, concerns, aspirations and ideas no matter how old they are.
“The older you get, the more contribution you can make to society. You are an asset. But this production is not about looking back. It’s not about reminiscing or peering through rose-coloured glasses to ‘the good old days’. This is art with the experience of age. We’ve lived a long time and have a library of things we have done, emotions we’ve experienced and stories we’d like to share.
“It’s about how we are living now. What it’s like to be 78 or 85 or 92 and living in Leeds today. What it’s like to be alone. What it’s like to lose someone. What it’s like to have achieved incredible things without realising it or gaining the plaudits you might richly deserve.
“One of our members is a rocket scientist, another a probation officer. Some are Jewish, some are from the Caribbean, some from Hong Kong, some from mainland China. We have a whole range of people coming together to share their lives and their creativity. We are all creative and if you join with us, if you are part of this movement, life is going to get better.
Communities, groups and individuals across Leeds have been crafting flowers for the production tell us why their input has been important?
“We don’t want The Promise of a Garden to be about 30 people or 300 people or 3,000 people – we want everyone to feel connected to it. So, if you make a flower for us you are contributing; you are being creative. That collective energy is the very essence of what we are doing.”
What do you hope audiences will take away from The Promise of a Garden?
“I hope people will see that we can all be creative and can all make something beautiful. This is a completely new style of theatre – theatre made by people for people who are interested in people.
“This is a unique moment in the lives of the performers and in the lives of the people watching it. It all happens in the moment. The productions are a gathering of people sharing their creativity. As a result, it’s a very beautiful, moving piece of work, which I hope will prompt people to share their own stories. When we listen to somebody’s story, we understand them better. We can bring peace to the world by understanding each other, and we understand each other by sharing our stories.
“Our magnificent performers believe they’ve done nothing special; they’re just people getting on with their lives. But they are extraordinary and have extraordinary stories to tell. Telling a story is a generous act and listening to a story is also a generous act. We are a theatre company of generosity.”
The Promise of a Garden is in the Quarry from 18th – 21st August. Book online at www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk or on 0113 213 7700