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London Stories

Battersea Arts Centre's latest show, exploring the lives of Londoners through "1-on-1-on-1" performances is magical, says Nancy Groves

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Performer Lara Honnor
© Layla El-Deeb

Not since Punchdrunk's Masque of the Red Death filled every last inch of the building six years ago has Battersea Arts Centre felt as magical as it does during the hour and a half of London Stories: A 1-on-1-on-1 festival.

Immersive theatre this isn't, despite the show's roots in BAC's critically acclaimed One-On-One festivals in 2010 and 2011. Instead, this is pared-down old-fashioned storytelling at its best from a cast of 35 ordinary Londoners, each with an eight-minute story to relate and a candlelit room of their own to do it in.

Drawing back a chintzy red curtain masking BAC's grand marble staircase, producer Richard Dufty sends us on our way with a personalised itinerary and map. Each traveller will only hear a fraction of the tales told this evening – six stories out of a possible 35. And they do so in the company of just two people: the storyteller and one other audience member.

For something so dependent on the power of words, the experience feels strangely physical, though this might be down to the storytellers and stories that made up my own ‘journey'. Charlotte Turton's take on being kettled in Westminster Square is a stark illustration that our bodies are our greatest organs of protest; Paula Varjack's encounter with an off-duty stripper that performers are real too.

These most of all. Gary Mansfield should be made regulation listening comprehension on the National Curriculum and I would dearly love to run into pensioner Jim Dunkley down his local. In its morbid humour and horses-for-courses take on our beautifully flawed capital, the show most reminded me of Craig Taylor's interview anthology, Londoners. But how much more telling to hear direct from the horses' mouths.

- Nancy Groves