For time immemorial we have sat in cosy circles sharing tales of gods, monsters and everyday heroes with those we love and those we have just met. Everyone has stories in their hearts – extraordinary and familiar – and we love to share in them. Storytelling is theatre in its most elemental form, one that unites and shares rather separates and distances. In a world so fragmented and polarised, this art form is a sorely needed leveller.
Battersea Arts Centre’s London Stories: Made By Migrants gives a voice to those that howling Brexiteers long to expel, in a format that naturally brings people together. With 24 performers who share their stories, small groups of audience members commune with them and each other in a work that, whilst quietly direct, is a potent piece of peaceful direct action with stories that awaken the heart in these dark days.
There are no more than five or six per group, including a guide. Coloured wristbands labelled with the name of a London borough determine the six stories stories heard, each a solo effort in a room or corner of the vast building. The stories are a straightforward structure, simply told, with no theatrics. The tellers come from all walks of life and all over the world, though there are more than a few theatremakers in the collection. Their stories are as varied as they are: a young artist from New York who arrived on a spousal visa days after Brexit, a Jamaican man that has struggled with homelessness, a Syrian refugee, a Kuwaiti adoptee raised in the UK and her quest to find her birth parents. Some have more impact than others, but all are immensely personal and it a privilege to hear them.
Some of the lighting is too dark, which frustratingly prevents eye contact with the storytellers even in such intimate settings. Most of the stories are told live, though there is at least one filmed story by a holocaust survivor. It’s a nice variation, though the liveness is missed. The stories are stylistically similar which isn’t an issue, though it would be interesting to explore different forms and structures across the stories offered. There are also some lengthy waiting times in between – though it is lovely to chat and connect with others in the group, it would be great to see another couple of stories instead.
This storytelling installation is much needed medicine in this post-referendum/Trump time. It reminds us of the importance of being still and listening, and the vast amounts of empathy such a simple task fosters. London Stories: Made By Migrants is necessary, vital and accessible work. Don’t miss it.
London Stories: Made By Migrants runs through 26 November.
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