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London Stories, Battersea Arts Centre – Review

Performed by the people of London
★★★★

Pros: An informative introduction and an emotive conclusion winds this show up into a tight and smart piece.

Cons: There are four “routes” of which you only get given one. This means you miss out on three times the stories you see.

Our Verdict: A Festival which focuses on the complex and diverse people that make up London. A personal theatre trip that will make you appreciate those humans who you interact with but don’t see daily. 

Credit: John Hunter

I’ve been living in London for five years. Ever since moving to the south for university, I have been lucky enough to experience the wonders of the capital . Love it or hate it this cosmopolitan urban centre has an awful lot to offer and this is evidenced both by and in the most recent intimate 1-on-1-on-1 Festival by the freshly refurbished Battersea Arts Centre.

Planned like a secret service operation, an army of BAC volunteers steer twice as many audience members through the rabbit burrow of this old and immensely interesting building, leading them through a journey of real London stories as told by those that actually experienced them. Each room holds one person, not an actor but someone who is willing to tell their story to strangers. They sit only in the candle light in rooms sometimes as small as a snug or as large as a ballroom and audience members enter two by two, listen to their story and then leave, altered by the true stories they have just been told.

There is little communication between the audience and the story-teller; in fact this is passively discouraged. We are given time at the end to fill in cards to each story teller if we wish and place them around what is slowly becoming a shrine. A monument to the tales as designed and created by the performers. However, we are encouraged to speak to one another as audience. We see each story with just one other audience member. A vital part of this show is how we interact with one another. I felt like I was on a blind date when I said goodbye to my friend on the marble stairs and made my way to my first story and the first audience member I was to experience this story with. And that’s part of the point of this show. 8 million people make up this city and yet we communicate with so few on a day to day basis. This festival is an attempt to bring Londoners together, whether you’re born and bred here or have been adopted by the hard-edged yet passionate city. For the connection between all these stories was the city of London.

I’m going to say very little about the actual stories, except that they were all very different; some of them were amusing, others saddening while some were just memories. It was strangely satisfying to listen to stories with no purpose to them except to be remembered. This brought with it a really strong emotional attachment to the tellers and to London that I still can’t shake off 24 hours later. Sadly, there are roughly 30 stories to be told and on one evening you will only see 6 which leaves you with a desire to hear more, like you’ve missed out on so much.

As non-performers, the story-tellers were all excellent. They each told their tales with rhythm and pace, truly fantastic coming from “normal people” who were not trying to act. They really represented both the diverse characters of London but with similarities running through the stories. It was interesting to note an additional aspect of Britishness running through the show, enhanced substantially at the end by the offering of free tea!

The opening welcome talk and time for reflection (and tea) at the end gives this evening precisely what it needs, a purpose. Without this, the show could have felt unravelled and without drive. Overall, this is an interesting project, it’s just a shame London and her people are so complex – it’s impossible to pack it all into 95 minutes.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

London Stories runs until the 28th September 2013 Visit https://www.bac.org.uk/content/29454/see_whats_on/current_shows/tuck_in/london_stories for more information and to book tickets or call 020 7223 2223.

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Everything Theatre
Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.