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Review: Nocturne (The Albany, Deptford)

Andy Field and Krista Burāne take audiences on a late-night walk across Deptford

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Nocturne
© Tristram Kenton

What city ever really sleeps? As night falls over Deptford, dusk sliding to dark, Nocturne nudges your senses awake. On a series of late-night walks, interspersed with installations indoors, Andy Field and Krista Burāne shift the way we see – and, indeed, hear – the streets of south east London.

Starting at 9pm and ambling on until midnight, Nocturne takes its time to slow you right down. It begins with a book – a poem that pricks up your ears – then leads you outside to listen in as one London winds down and another ramps up.

At night, the city both softens and hardens. Its hustle disappears, street lights cushion its edges. Yet its corners grow shadowy and menacing. Engines rip through the quiet. Shadows lurk in the park. Drunks find their voice. You can't but be a little on edge.

The last time LIFT led us round this part of town, in Deblozay, 2014, we made noise. Lots of it: metal vuvuzelas wheezed, steel drums cooked up a beat, as a Haitian death march made its presence heard. Nocturne's neat programming, then: a chance to tune in.

Nocturne
© Tristram Kenton

Led, silently, by a guide, holding onto a rope, Nocturne focuses in on the noises of the night: teenage girls stifle giggles as they pass by, helicopters burr, generators hum. A motorcycle seems to hack up its lungs. Piano song floats down from a second-floor flat. Nature's noisy too, when you open your ears: birds chirrup, dogs bark, the Thames trickles along. At any sight of animal life, we're brought to a stop. We stare down a cat, come face-to-face with a fox, spy on ducks squelching on muddy banks. In a restaurant window, fish mind their own business.

If Nocturne's partly a crash course for flaneurs, disrupting the way we navigate urban space, it's mostly a reminder that the city is shared. Carving through high streets and nature reserves, past glassy new builds and graveyards, construction sites and astroturf, its route makes the most of the clashes in space. The sense is of competition: new versus old, green versus grey, art versus commerce. Mostly, humanity and nature seem to go toe to toe: no matter how much concrete we pour or how many lawns we landscape, the natural world finds a way to creep back in. Wildflowers colonise pavements. Gnats dance under streetlamps. A gorgeous installation illustrates the point: grass grows around litter in a tube of water.

For all that, Nocturne's slight – it is what you make of it. Its tip-toeing delicacy means that it's easily punctured. One walk moves us around as animals, darting anxiously down streets and clinging to walls, but as we tread on each other's ankles and bump into backs, it's more irritating than illuminating. That breaks the spell, so does the faint whiff of pretension, and, while the experience is all – pleasing and pensive – the ideas it raises are, at base, rather banal.

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