Tonight I went to see Slung Low’s latest project, Last Seen, a promenade performance happening under the aegis of the Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival. Although I was pretty excited about seeing this, I’m sorry to say it let me down. Perhaps it was just the story line that I took, Green (“Joy”) – the other two had two characters and I only had Joy (Lolita Chakrabarti) to entertain me.
The format was thus: we (the audience) gathered in the Almeida (note that where you sit determines which story you follow, so I recommend you pick either upstairs for White (Reason Season) or the rear of the stalls for Blue (The Great Bear)), where we were instructed to put on headphones. A brief check is done to verify that the equipment was working (it wasn’t initially for anyone – opening night problems, I’m sure). Then each group of people is led out, one group at a time, by the character(s) whose stories they will be following for the rest of the evening. Each group is also accompanied by one or two guides (we had two, I think, though only one introduced himself to us), who make sure the groups of headphone-wearing and thus mostly deaf people actually get across the streets safely and don’t block cars from getting down alleys.
Our narrator was a woman named Joy. As we trooped down Almeida Street, she began to tell us of her daughter Angel and a bit about her family. Although she spoke in a normal voice, we all listened to her through our headphones, which continually played some music (not helpful) and occasionally other people’s voices. Joy met someone who gave her a gold painted medicine bottle, and shortly thereafter was menaced by a man in a face mask and hoodie on a bike.
We wandered along until we came to the Astey’s Row Rock Gardens, where she talked about being sexually harassed at a job. We paused for a while at the entrance to the park, where a strange sculpture of gold art model dolls had been put near a playground. I think I also saw a gold painted chewed apple in the park – they kept showing up throughout the performance, and though I thought perhaps they had some reference to Adam and Eve or perhaps even Eris, they seemed only later to refer to some apples her daughter had eaten.
The most exciting moment of the evening came when Joy told us of meeting Angel’s father (done after we’d passed through the park behind St. Mary’s Church, possibly on St. Mary’s Path), where a man was leaning against a spray-painted shadow on a wall. He fit it perfectly. He then walked away from the shadow and went to another wall, where he continued playing with his cellphone. Joy stood in the shadow and changed into a red dress; the gorgeous, high-cheeked man was joined by a woman who made out with him enthusiastically. We all walked back to the church and were eventually passed by the man and the woman, but were they a part of the scene or just some random, hormonal strangers? None of us knew.
We did actually go in the church, and then back to the Almeida, all within about an hour, but there’s little really to say about the walk. It didn’t make Islington come alive, like it might have; the other two stories didn’t come together at all, like Moonwalking in Chinatown (but we were told we could stay and watch another thread for a mere 5 quid, or come back and see it for 40% off at another date during the run); it didn’t take advantage of the headphones to provide us with secret information on people’s thoughts like Minkette’s brilliant Train of Thought. It didn’t seem to have a real arc to it; in fact, it was rather dull. It didn’t take advantage of being in Islington at all and didn’t really benefit from being a promenade in any way as near as I can tell.
In short, this was a huge disappointment for me. I am really hoping the other stories were more interesting. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to check as I’m gone for the rest of the run (it’s last day is Sunday July 12th), but I have to say I’d be really hard pressed to bother coming back after tonight even if I was free.
(This review was based on the 7 PM performance that took place Wednesday July 8th. Last Seen continues through Sunday July 12th, 2009, with performances at 7 and 9 except for Sunday the 12th, when it is at 4 and 6 PM.)