Duncan Macmillan and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Old Vic New Voices
Old Vic Tunnels, Waterloo
Review by Iain James Finlayson
In a network of secret tunnels deep in the bowels of Waterloo Station over 100 Londoners are meeting every night this week. Ranging in age from 17 to 75 they come from diverse backgrounds and professions. Amongst them are black cab drivers, civil servants, a DJ, a personal trainer, students and retirees. What are all these people doing in this subterranean world deep under the streets of London you may ask? Making theatre of course!
They are all part of the Old Vic's new community theatre company which aims to develop new talent while building community cohesion and addressing social inclusion. Platform is their first project and is based on material collected during three months of interviews with Londoners about what it's like living in the city in 2010. Duncan Macmillan and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm have woven these stories together into a coherent piece of theatre that traverses London both historically and geographically.
Set on the Underground, Chloe (Lucy Benson-Brown) is on her way to hospital to give birth to her first child when the train breaks down. Phyllis (Judith Rosheuvel), a retired nurse, steps in to assist her. Phyllis and the other passengers distract Chloe with stories from their lives. These stories are re-enacted for the audience as they move through the tunnels with the cast. The stories overlap and intertwine in unexpected ways although many of the storylines have disappointingly predictable conclusions. Platform is at its strongest when infused with Macmillan and Malcolm's irreverent humour but at times becomes over sentimental.
Platform's cast are universally strong and it's hard to believe they are inexperienced and untrained volunteers. 75 year old retired social worker Judith Rosheuvel is exceptional as Phyllis, taking on the role of surrogate grandmother to both the cast and audience. She guides them through the tunnels and her life in London from her 1950s classroom to the 1970s bedroom of her punk son John (Alexander Austin) and ultimately to her hospital bedside where she has just suffered a heart attack in 2010.
Director Alexander Ferris has obviously taken the large cast with him on the creative journey and all are given a chance to shine. James McNicholas and Kevin Quinn revel in their comic roles as Clifford the Dungeons and Dragons celebrant and Howard, proud father and train driver. Matthew Schmolle brings depth to Clive, a Canary Wharf banker having a breakdown. The cast display true versatility - singing, playing instruments and undertaking group movement pieces choreographed by Neil Bettles from Frantic Assembly.
Joanna Scotcher's inspired design embraces the unique space inside the Old Vic Tunnels recreating various parts of London in imaginative ways. The ever changing landscape within the tunnels creates a real sense of adventure and magic. There is winter London complete with snow, a manic bike ride and even a real ice cream van driving around. Once the paramedics arrive to take Chloe to hospital, the remaining passengers take it on themselves to track down her recently estranged partner Rocky (Alex Papadakis). This leads them and the audience to an East London pub, fully recreated in one of the tunnels with an operational bar where the audience can buy their interval drinks.
Platform is truly inventive and its affection and passion for London and her people unmistakeably shine through. The Old Vic is generously offering Platform as a free event, although this means tickets are now sold out. It's a shame that the logistics of coordinating such a large and unpaid cast means this show will not run long enough to get the exposure it deserves. Platform is a celebration of London in all her gritty glory and the real stories and real people give it a unique authenticity.
Running until November 14.