Lettie McKie, Horatio and Me (scratch performance), 25/10/2014, Artslav, Kennington, £5
Reviewed by David Turner [Originally published in LP5, December 2015]
Directions. Get yourself down to The Doghouse pub where Kennington Road meets Kennington Lane. Just outside you’ll find black, cast-iron railings with an illuminated sign marked Artslav. Now at this point you’ll probably be thinking to yourself, “that’s a public lavatory, isn’t it?” and you’d be right. It is. Well done. Gold star.
Through the iron gate and down the candle-lit stone steps is Artslav, a performance space in a (not so) converted public loo. The room is lined with a row of urinals to the right and cubicles to the left, the porcelain separated by a metre wide stretch of mosaic tiled floor, the tiles providing the combined stage and seating area.
Included in the admission price was a gin and tonic. A nice touch but I really don’t understand this kind of romanticising of certain parts of London’s history; dark corners, flagstone steps, ceramic tiles and gin, especially when pubs and pie and mash shops are ‘re-invented’ as espresso bars with alarming regularity. Plus, drinking gin in a subterranean public bog in London wouldn’t normally have such a quirky outcome.
The performance opened with Lettie Mckie sat, on a low armchair, in the middle of a cluster of around twenty-five spectators. She was flanked by a side table and standard lamp (like wot your nan ‘ad). The lamp provided a low, constant, comforting glow in contrast to the sparkling of the tea-lights on the urinal shelves.
‘The set’ and Lettie’s sheep onesie was supposed to, I think, give the feeling of intimacy. A sense of all being round at her gaff. This was a little hard to believe though as most of us had our backs pressed up against urinals. The combination of the venue and the onesie gave the impression of a children’s television presenter going off the rails, all wide eyes and jazz hands, as we looked on, drinking gin from china cups and saucers.
I fully accept that we don’t always have a choice when looking for venues but I think as performers we really need to be more selective or at least put more thought into how the venue affects the context of the performance. I also accept that part of an audience’s role is to suspend disbelief, but that can be difficult when standing in an underground toilet along with more people than it was ever designed to hold. That said, I think Artslav could prove to be a fantastic venue for the right production.
Oh yeah, the poetry bit. The story carried us through a summary of Lettie’s unsuccessful attempts to meet a man. Disastrous dates, pity dates, “Banker George”, and fucking guys because they were simply “Cheddar Gorge”. All while being watched over by her guardian angel, her cat Horatio. Apparently there was a large framed photograph of Horatio perched on the side table ‘on stage’, but because of the layout of the room I never got a proper look at anything to Lettie’s left.
The script rhymed like a bastard. Lettie didn’t stop rhyming, like Miranda Hart doing an impression of Eazy E. At times this was very effective and quite clever (I especially liked the sudden use of minge and muff). Inevitably, though, over the course of forty or so minutes, the rhymes began to feel a little forced. It sometimes feels like poets are showing off a little when they do this, or are they just trying to justify standing on stage and charging people to watch them read poetry? “Remember folks, this is poetry and it can be entertaining too”. It very rarely is.
I thought Lettie was very funny all the same, and the timing of her delivery was strong. Mind you, she could probably tone down the ‘acting’ a touch.
By the end I wasn’t left feeling particularly sympathetic toward Lettie’s character. Although he was clearly supposed to be a cunt, I got the impression that ‘Banker George’ had seen a little more of Lettie than she had been sharing with us.
Lettie admitted to us after the performance that she had been feeling quite ill, even confided in us how many times she had vomited before the show had started. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and attribute any stumbling over lines and visibly taking a breather between scenes to the puking or the fact that this was a ‘scratch’ performance. Though I am seriously considering using this line at the end of all my performances – it could hide a multitude of failings – I do not think Lettie was lying.
My name is David and I fucking hate poetry. I don’t much like underground toilets either.