Review: North West (Camden People’s Theatre, online)

This show, created by Anna Morrissey and Tristan Kajanus, is available in two versions; one online and one a self-guided audio tour with which you can wander the former North Westminster School, now the posh flats and commercial units of the Paddington Basin.

I opted for the online version, which runs just under fifty minutes and is a mix of photographs and voices with text appearing on the screen (different colours for different speakers), and a rich sound design. The school was open from 1981-2006, before being demolished and replaced; a look at the planning application reveals the extent of the change, which is alluded to here as the loss of community and the pursuit of profit.

North West is not a piece full of rosy recollections. Violence is discussed, the inertia of both teachers and pupils who are reluctant to engage in the pursuit of education, the roughness of a provincial playground. And yet, the sense of companionship and friendship comes out again and again in the interviews, and a sense of loss.

Perhaps the saddest casualty of the changes imposed on the area was the loss of the Studio Theatre, especially as North West is a piece of performance existing just as the government are proposing catastrophic cuts to arts education programmes.

Promotional image for North West

When it comes to people, an account of children being made to stay away from new clientele moving into the area because “they are not what they expect to see” is a chilling echo of the gentification which has taken place across so many areas of the capital, forcing those born in the area to move elsewhere, and for traditions and camaderie between neighbours to be lost.

North West‘s memories of the North Westminster School celebrates the diversity, the liveliness, and the feeling you belonged. Looking at the photographs, it is hard to get a feel for what the site is like in scope and atmosphere. although as an online installation the words and thoughts of those connected with the place are key.

This is a valuable piece of recent social history, created for Camden People’s Theatre Outside the Box series. It is available until 23 May 2021 and you can book here on a Pay What You Can basis to experience either or both versions at any time. The online version is a richly crafted work in its own right, but if you are able to attend in person, you may well get more from the overall experience.

Image credit: Angela Christofilou 

Check out my review of another production in Outside the Box, No Future, here.

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