Abigail Bryant reviews London Stories at Battersea Arts Centre
November 9th 2016. While the world tried to comprehend the day’s political events, I was fortunate enough to attend a poignant and powerful celebration of differences at Battersea Arts Centre. Like many, I often enjoy to ‘people watch’ on the streets of London, imagining the stories of others – the rich fabric of histories and lives passing by collectively. We attend the theatre because we want to see, hear and interpret a story – escaping into romance, conflicts and values of characters often through a social, cultural or political lens. London Stories: Made by Migrants asks the audience to confront real people telling their real stories, and provides a sobering and inspirational glimpse behind the headlines, where discourse around migration is fuelled with ideological narratives that often overshadow the people it concerns.
The story tellers share their personal stories of moving to London from elsewhere in the UK or overseas, and are situated in different parts of the BAC; the venue itself is the perfect setting to the evening. A stark disused room carrying a heavy chill, a cosy bedroom overlooking the skyline of the city, crumbling corridors and a misty rooftop are just a few of the backdrops that play a role in the storytelling itself, and as groups are led around the building newspaper headlines adorn the routes, reminding and educating us of public conversation around migration throughout history.
In the spirit of connecting with new people, the concept purposefully separates audience members from those they booked with, and so each intimate performance comprises of ‘strangers’ gathered together in a small space. In a vast city where we encounter hundreds of people every day at pace and superficiality, avoiding eye contact at all costs, the idea of deep intimacy with strangers seems contradictory. But yet London Stories destroys boundaries and unites people on a human level, encouraging understanding, empathy and equality. The tellers convey their stories in different styles and tones, but each look not only into the eyes of those listening but into their souls. It’s a truly immersive experience which is intensified with honesty, emotion and warmth. I laughed and I cried, but most importantly I was informed and connected.
London Stories: Made by Migrants is a celebration not only of uniting differences, but of London as a facilitator of hope and opportunity, and as a lifeline. Poignant not only during times like these, the act of sharing and listening that London Stories facilitates endorses that we can all be lifelines to each other. Although at just ten minutes in length per story it can feel that only the surface is being scratched, the frankness and authenticity of each teller’s accounts, along with the aesthetic impact of each location, results in a truly powerful and engaging night of the extraordinary within the ordinary. I’m already planning my next visit.
London Stories runs at Battersea Arts Centre 4 – 19 and 22-26 November