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Review: London Stories: Made by Migrants (Battersea Arts Centre)

The festival of true stories, told by the people who lived them, returns to the BAC

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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It is an exceptionally pertinent time to bring back Battersea Arts Centre's festival London Stories. Originally performed in 2013, London Stories brought together real people's tales – performed by them too - from all over the capital. Three years later and the festival has a specific angle – stories from migrants based in London. It can't have been difficult to find the material; London is, after all, one of the most diverse cities in the world, with a history of migration that has shaped and informed its character.

The audience is separated into different groups – each with the name of a different council borough – and with a guide is taken on a tour of the back rooms and corridors of the Old Town Hall. Each group hears six stories and if you so wished, you could revisit the show a few more times to hear all of the tales. They range from the simple to the tragic and they are never less than riveting.

In a cold, dark corner, one young man talks about growing up in Jamaica, while his mum was trying to earn their keep in London. Then, when he and the rest of his family are brought over, he relays his first experiences of school and of suddenly being the one who stood out: "In my school in Jamaica, there were only two white people!"

Later, a video is shown of Lily, a holocaust survivor, who came to London after the war. Around her neck she wears a gold pendant: "This must be the only bit of gold that went into and then out of Auschwitz still owned by the same person." She is frail but the way she performs is vivid and unsentimental. Like many of the people that are part of this project, her need to tell and share her story seems to drive her.

Lest we forget, is a phrase that comes to mind throughout London Stories. In our age of faceless communication, and mistrust of facts and figures, seeing the real person behind a traumatic tale or an epic journey to safety is so important. We witness the real human cost of wars and of turning desperate people away from a safe haven.

What London Stories also does is remind us that a vast chunk of the population of London is made up of people who don't originally come from the city. The stories here explain what it is like to be someone arriving in the hustle and bustle for the first time, of the way you can get lost and left behind but also of the hope the place can offer.

Six cards are given out to you as you make the journey through Battersea Arts Centre (looking very healthy after its terrible fire in 2015). The cards offer figures on immigration and history, one notes that in the 16th century it was said that 'Tottenham has turned French'.

It's a reminder that migration is nothing new, certainly not for London, anyway. And though performing London Stories to the Battersea audiences occasionally feels a little like preaching to the converted, you are nevertheless struck by how vital it is to speak and listen to these stories again and again and again.

London Stories: Made By Migrants runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 26 November.

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