Last Seen

Simon Burt, Lolita Chakrabarti and Matthew David Scott
Slung Low
Almeida Theatre

Publicity photo

Across the road a family is falling apart in fast-forward. My bulky headphones shut out the traffic and the conversations of passers-by, instead underscoring the scene with poignant music. Then I take a step forward to get a better view, and my headphones start picking up pirate radio.

This incident, like most of the niggling little technical problems in Slung Low's outdoor promenade piece Last Seen, is not the company's fault, and as such it doesn't feel fair to criticise it. But it so interferes with the mood of the moment that it's impossible to describe the experience of the production without mentioning it.

The audience, divided into three groups, follows three different miked-up storytellers - who can speak directly into their headphones, which shut out all other sound - around Islington, where a story unfolds. The headphones solve one of outdoor promenade's major problems by making sure everyone can hear the performers at all times, and also enhance the experience by adding incidental music and sound effects.

It's a sound idea in theory, and Slung Low execute it as well as humanly possible. A mixture of live and recorded speech, plus music and effects, dovetail with action on the street and in restaurant and flat windows, all without a single timing mishap. The system helps sidestep the promenade malaise (witness a scene, walk for a bit, witness another, walk some more; you get some exercise, but no artistic outcome, from the walkabout format) by allowing dialogue to continue while on the move.

But the headphones intermittently pick up interference, which is at best distracting and at worst overwhelms the dialogue or sound. It's impossible to forget that you're wearing them and lose yourself in the action.

The story itself, in my case, is Simon Burt's Reason Season Life Time: an almost literal trip down Memory Lane with Terrance, whose many regrets haunt him through the residential streets of Islington. Burt's script engages fully with the location, and Barry McCarthy loads Terrance's voice with longing and indignation in both the live and pre-recorded dialogue.

It's a story about the interaction of the physical and spiritual, which questions whether escaping a memory could be as easy as escaping the place it was born. Unfortunately, the show runs for less than a week, which probably isn't long enough for Slung Low and the Almeida to resolve the technical issues - which means that story may never take its rightful place centre stage.

Until 12 July

Reviewer: Matt Boothman

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