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Once Seen

Mkultra Performance Collective
The Prince Arthur (London NW1)
(2007)

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This site-specific show, presented in a pub at the side of Euston station, is the latest work of a multi-national group directed by Paeder Kirk. It does not tell a story but gives a glimpse of many stories - some of them your own. It is structured to give you a mixture of the kind of observed incident, fragmented snatches of overheard chat, person to person exchange, pleasant music and a little bit of stand-up that you might find in a relaxed evening in any friendly pub where the noise level does not kill intimate conversation dead.

You go into the bar, buy a drink and see what happens. Someone will soon get you into conversation. Don't worry it doesn't involve the kind of audience participation that can be embarrassing. People talk to you, they may ask you questions but you don't have to reply: they'll carry on talking to you in monologue if you want to play it that way. You will probably find it much more enjoyable to join in but you won't be pestered the way you might be by some pub bore or drunk in real life - and least not at the show I saw.

Initially there's a woman telling us all about the night she stripped off and danced on tables, and on some other occasions someone uses a mike to speak to all of us, but mainly the conversation is much more private. You'll probably meet a guy who's Welsh but lives in Poland, a Greek girl who wants to know your fantasies, a young man who knows all about coffee and wants to share an odd memory of a night with another student, a Yoruba speaking woman who talks about a brother who didn't exist, a pollster who wants to question you about your fears and others. The interchange will partly depend on your own reactions.

It's a piece about memory, about dreams and aspirations, about confidences and communication. It comes with neither overall narrative line nor any heavy message but it is very carefully structured, beautifully timed. I found almost entirely engaging. There's one episode a bit like an inarticulate AA contribution that I found tedious but it is brief and early on and it is played sincerely.

All this eight-strong cast bring a total reality to their performances: helped, perhaps, because they are playing characters drawn from themselves and their own experiences, if I understand the company's publicity correctly, but nevertheless showing considerable control and skill in the way they present their material and handle the audience. Although there is room for some improvisation in the structure this is very much a theatrical situation demanding technical and emotional skills. It requires a concentration and projection from the performer very different from ordinary conversation and Gigi Argyropoulou, Melanie Foy, Taylan Halici, Gregor Henderson-Begg, Adura Onashile, Ian Morgan, Juliet Prague, and Iara Solano have it.

Handling this direct relationship with the larger group is more difficult, hence, no doubt the use of a mike and stand-up element - to my mind rather less successful, though this is a show that changes and develops in each performance. I gather the performance I saw was the first time a mike had been used for these elements, which probably accounts for some awkward sound levels. There is a complication sound score which backs the whole performance and a discreet lighting plot (by Ollie Hall) using the pub's existing non-theatrical lighting (which fortunately includes a number of dimmer switches). However, I did find it unwelcoming to enter somewhere so dimly lit, especially since a very late start left punters waiting on benches outside (did someone forget we'd put the clocks on?).

These weekend performances take place when this pub is normally closed, which enables it to be a fully controlled event. I'd love to see what happens if you did a version of this during normal opening hours.

Sundays until 8 April & Sat 7 April

Reviewer: Howard Loxton