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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

London Tales
Lost Theatre
15th January 2014


Publicity image for London Tales

Photography provided by Utopia Theatre

There's a lot of romanticism surrounding the big smoke. Whether it's Neverwhere - with its homeless allegory of Black Friars, the Lady Door and an angel called Islington - The Pogues' nostalgic and heartbreaking Rainy Night in Soho or as the base of many fictional detectives such as Sherlock Holmes, John Constantine and... umm... Danger Mouse. But of course anyone who lives here knows it's not all magical realism and waltzing outside Madame Jojo's. And not just because it's being closed (yes we are still bitter about that, thank you). We know it's throngs of commuters, missed connections, working like demons to keep up with the exorbitant rent and lots and lots of different people. That's the reality of it.

Showing the melting pot of our great, horrible, scary, exciting and miserable city is Utopia Theatre's production of London Tales, which includes performers from across the world. Seriously. Estonia, Malta, France, even people who've studied in Birmingham, for heaven's sake! Under the direction of Moji Kareem, the cast of 12 come together to present a fairly mundane representation of a day in London, with a wafer-thin through-line involving a couple (Gabriel Akamo and Sonia Martins) whose sped-up relationship is put to the test. It's all told through movement, a little dance, some voiceover work and then your more traditional dialogue.

The mundanity of the piece is at once its biggest strength and ultimate drawback. Anyone who has been in this city for more than 20 seconds can't fail to spot the similarities with their own lives - fights to be the first on the bus, drunk people apologising loudly on the Tube, running that eternal rat race. And a lot of it raises at least a smile of recognition. Occasionally, with Akamo's Evening Standard vendor being the prime example, there's also a quite a bit of a belly laugh. But equally it can feel frustrating - no one wants to see an observational comic who just points things out rather than delivesr gags to go alongside things. (Although admittedly the popularity of Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay may show this not to be true). And too many sketches here segue to the next without a killer punchline or, if it's dramatic, a twist of the knife.

There are attempts at this, with a piece about the first 7/7 bombing between Liverpool Street and Aldgate. While nice, and showing the kindness and human spirit in the face of such tragedy, it is simply just that. Nice. In fact, the most heart-wrenching moment comes pretty much at the top of the show, in a voiceover of a homeless person explaining that she's not troubled enough to warrant help.

Credit must be given, though, to movement director Chris Yarnell, whose guiding hand can be felt throughout, with all of the cast never less than utterly on-point. Couple that with some lovely subtleties in the crowd scenes (how Dannie Pye reacts to spontaneous Tube laughter, for example), and you have pieces that are never less than engaging. A nod also to Ronan Marrow's costumes - bases of drab grey with patches of vibrancy unique to each person - a fabric representation of the city and its inhabitants.

London Tales is an energetic and well-meaning work with a harmonious cast and clear talent behind it. But for a city that's so viciously arguing with itself in terms of wealth and poverty, culture, art, frustration and fulfilment, the piece seems oddly toothless. It does show there's a place for talking about the city like it is, away from Gaiman, MacGowan and Conan Doyle, but it must represent London in ethos as well as deeds.

London tales opened on 13th January and runs until 17th January 2015 at Lost Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Stockwell (Northern, Victoria)

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