views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Cloakroom Attendant
Tristan Bates Theatre
1st August 2018


Publicity photo for The Cloakroom Attendant

Photography © Stefanos Dimitriadis

As anyone who works in a customer-facing role knows, the worst thing about working with people is people. It doesn't matter how simple or effective your system is, there will always be at least one who refuses to believe in it. Yes, I've met some lovely folk who have happily passed the time of day with me with a bit of harmless banter or gentle chitchat, but I've also been physically threatened and verbally abused. Far too often do the general public forget that the person serving them is just that - another person. The Cloakroom Attendant gives a platform to the sort of voice that is rarely remembered - the one asking you politely for your ticket, so she can reunite you with your belongings.

Margot (Dimitra Barla) is the first and last face that the visitors to her National Trust property see. She remains in her little corner all shift long, largely ignored, with only the coats, bags and scarves for company. It's not the most exciting role, so in those lulls when visitors are busy exploring the museum at the same time, Margot retreats into a fantasy world, inspired by the objects around her and the paintings she has previously seen from exploring the museum. This is her story - and she has quite the imagination.

Despite this being a shorter length piece, Margot seems determined to share with us many different stories. Some are anecdotes, providing advice on how to cope with dealing with the general public, leading to knowing smiles from people who have been there and done it too. Others are imagined tales based on the beautiful old paintings in the property, with Margot dipping in and out of her own modern day adaptation of the Divine Comedy. It's all very fragmented though, which makes it difficult to keep track of the different threads and stay focused.

I suppose all the verbal darting around does neatly reflect Margot's broken train of thought - after all, she can only lose herself in other worlds when she's not serving customers and it's hard to predict when one will require her attention. It's also suggestive of the way in which most visitors wander around a museum, taking a route that will definitely lead them to an end, but ultimately may not be the most logical one and may involve doubling back. Whilst there is structure, it's only to a point. However, whatever clever artistic merit there is to all this careful wandering around, it does lessen the overall impact. Cutting down the number of "chapters" would give more power to those which survive the editing.

Worthy of note is director Natalie Katsou's use of projection, taking the black back wall and transforming it into the inside of what looks suspiciously like London at night, down by the river, and the Wallace Collection in Marylebone. Anyone who has ever popped in to wander around the museum knows that sumptuous is an understatement to describe it. The the 3D, simple clothes rail contrasted against this 2D decadent interior underlines 'me and them' view taken by the often under-appreciated attendant.

Barla is a charismatic performer. Admittedly, this isn't always enough to keep us focussed on her character's ramblings - it would though be unfair not to recognise her skilled movement and the ease with which she switches between different moods and expressions. If you take something from this show - other than the knowledge that she's a talented actress - it would to listen more. You never know whose valuable opinion you're walking past.

The Cloakroom Attendant opened on 30th July and runs until 4th August 2018 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)

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