Battersea Odyssey is a collection of untold community stories, merged together into a piece of promenade theatre. Light Box Theatre, based in Battersea, collaborated with local people to create fictional characters that portray the reactions to the huge changes and developments that are happening in the area.
I arrive at the venue to be directed out into a courtyard where garden furniture and outdoor decorations make it look like I have walked into a private village party. There are other audience members sitting, relaxed and chatting to one another. After receiving my programme I realise that the actors too are dotted among them. ‘Has the play already begun?’ I thought to myself. After ten minutes or so, Tia, played by Toyin Ayedun-Alase, detached herself from the small knot of people she had been conversing with to tell us that she was a resident at one of the Battersea estates, how much she loved the area and that it was her home town. Tia and a character called Steve, played by Andrew David, then split the audience into two groups and led a separate party each to different areas of the building.
A small collection of audience members and myself followed Tia, a wonderfully enthusiastic young character. Ayedun-Alase held our attention completely as she led us onto the street outside while describing her passion and adoration of the place she calls home. We head back inside, still led by Tia, into a roomy and cosy ‘greasy spoon’ setting, where Tia introduces us to Carly. Carly, played by Louise Mai Newberry, was another long-standing local of Battersea with her own stories to share. While we sat about the room on stools, sofas and at classic café tables, Carly told us stories about how close the community had always been, and how people of all race, colour and affluence would mix in public. Tia interjected here and there to share her own recollections of how safe it had been to grow up in the area. It became clear at this point that this play was to instate pride and enthusiasm into an audience predominantly made up of Battersea locals.
David’s character enters the café to lead our group from the audience around the rest of the building, which had been separated, clearly and with large pictures and maps, into the different Battersea estates. Along the way we met Rees, a youth worker, played by Segun Olaiya; Alfie, an elderly gentleman, played by Liam Smith, who was full of stories of ‘the good old days’ in Battersea; and Margaret, a edgy and thoughtful dry cleaner, characterised beautifully by Miranda Cook. Cook’s character really detailed the differences between the old Battersea and the new which seemed to be the key significance of the play. Each character, at some point, had made a comparison between how Battersea used to be and how it is now. They each touched on the vast amount of development that is currently taking place in the area. Some characters, like Alfie, felt left out and overlooked by this new wave of transformation that had forced itself on his area. Others, like Steve, acknowledged the need for change and saw the developments as a positive progression, hoping that it would alter the negative stereotype that the area had for so many years. He expressed a hope that the young people of Battersea might now start to take pride in where they lived and how that might make them take more pride in themselves.
It is clear that this company aspire to pass on their own pride and passion for an area they love, and what better way to do this than to create a community play, made by the locals, with the locals, and for the locals. It could not have been better executed and this exceptionally talented group of people, led by director Joanna Turner, have really made something to be proud of. A true local triumph!
Battersea Odyssey played at the Katherine Low Settlement. For more information, see the Light Box Theatre website.