Leeds Waterfront Festival performances will take walkers on an interactive journey

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  • Boxing Day floods examined in waterside play
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A series of performances at the Leeds Waterfront Festival this weekend will try to make sense of the Boxing Day floods and what may happen in the future. Neil Hudson reports

Have you ever thought of yourself as a ‘hydro-citizen’? Well, if you live anywhere near a watercourse and certainly if you live in the heart of Leeds, then you are one.

The city was built around the River Aire and the completion of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, which this year marks its 200th anniversary, effectively turned Leeds into an inland port, providing a further boon for the burgeoning textile industry and opening up seemingly endless possibilities for trade.

But living near or in some cases next to water can have its downsides, as many will bare testament to following the Boxing Day floods.

This weekend, a series of interactive performances examining our relationship with water will take place as part of the Leeds Waterfront Festival, now in its ninth year. The trilogy of installations has been branded ‘A River Runs Through It’ and encompasses narrated riverside walks, plays and other informative performances.

Professor Steve Bottoms, who lectured in drama and performance at the University of Leeds from 2005-2012 and who is now professor of theatre and performance at Manchester University and who also lived in Leeds until 2014, is one of the instigators of the ‘Multi-Story Water’ project.

Salt's Waters

Salt's Waters

Take a look at this short film, Wading to Shipley, another of Steve’s projects

“I was very interested in doing something which didn’t just ask what happened and why but which moved the story on in terms of asking what might happen in the future. So, in one of the pieces, called After the Flood, we talked to all sorts of people and collected their stories and we also talked to the agencies involved in the response and then we dramatised it. The audience gets to interact with the performance, so it’s about understanding what happened and what we can do in the future. We also set up a network with people from the Environment Agency, the council, the Canal and River Trust and the Leeds Waterfront Association and it’s become a kind of talking shop and I think out of that a conversation has been created which might not otherwise have happened.”

More on the Leeds Waterfront Festical HERE

After the Flood is a family-friendly mystery promenade tour, which allows audiences to guide themselves in the vicinity of Granary Wharf and the Dark Arches, encountering performers along the way. Starting with stories of those who were flooded then moving towards contemplation of what is and could be done in the future, audiences are encouraged to imagine themselves as members of the community searching for answers.

Another of the performances, Seven Bridges, takes a wry look at how the city of Leeds is ringed and intersected by waterways and how they have moulded the lives of the people who live there. Steve plays the fictional CEO of ‘Leeds Re-development Corporation’ – his goal is to get some ‘blue sky thinking’ into an imagined future development for the waterfront. Assisted by side-kick Ron Brackish (David Calder) and accompanied by their hired minstrel (Eddie Lawler), the walk emphasises how broken up access to the river is in the centre of Leeds while providing plenty of information about the water front and its history for curious walkers.

Finally, Salt’s Waters, which is based in Bradford, offers walkers the chance to download an audio-guide which includes theatrical performance, commentary and music as they make numerous waterways, starting at Salt’s Mill but exploring tributary becks, the haunting remains of Milner Field, the grand mansion built by Titus Salt Junior and the fairground attractions of Shipley Glen. It goes live on June 24 and is being launched in conjunction with the Leeds Waterfront Festival.

Seven Bridges will start from the footbridge at the head of Leeds Dock at 11.30am and 3pm, After the Flood starts from Lock 1 on the canal at noon and 4pm.

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