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Justin Murray

Review: IN MEMORY OF LEAVES at Fordham Gallery Barge, Meanwhile Gardens & touring

In Memory of Leaves In Memory Of Leaves, written and performed by Natasha Langridge, is floating on its performance barge on to London communities affected by gentrification: Kensington, Camden, Hackney. Taking the form of diary entries written from 2014 to the present day, it follows Natasha in her storyteller persona as she is propelled on a journey from being evicted from her flat, to protesting with the Occupy movement, to volunteering in the Calais jungle, to watching the fallout of the Grenfell Tower disaster, all against the backdrop of a pair of love affairs.

Perhaps the loveliest thing about the piece is the atmosphere of the 30-strong audience as we huddle together onto this barge before the show, glad to share in the feeling that we found our way here in the middle of a darkened park in October. It’s a great vibe. Some of the strongest moments in the piece come when Langridge uses her audience as part of her stage picture - huddling with them as if in the back of a van. There’s a loveliness here and I’d have been eager to see more of this.

The writing has a directness to it that’s played without much of an eye to the audience (in an early example Natasha looks down at herself and remarks, without a hint of irony: ’I take photos of my breasts. They are magnificent.’) Here and there, words are used that aren’t correct English. It's not clear if this is a deliberate choice; if it is, it needs to be pushed. At times the emotion is fierce, but Langridge seems to get stuck in certain line deliveries which holds her back. The movement work can also come across as rather on the nose.

Some aspects of the writing style pay dividends, others only raise questions. Snapshots like the description of a woman who rescues cats who keep returning to the rubble of Grenfell Tower are strong; and there’s a wonderful, if short-lived, moment of absolute joy when Labour wins in Kensington which raises a smile. But it’s not always clear how each episode relates to the whole picture, and by the time we get to Calais it just feels like disaster porn. A resentment lingers at having our heartstrings tugged in this way.

Elsewhere it seems as if Langridge is trying to set up an equivocation between herself and the displaced persons of Grenfell Tower and the Calais Jungle. But in so doing she fails to take account of her own whiteness or privilege, which leaves a sour taste. In a couple of really uncomfortable moments the character proclaims she hates the refugees she meets in Calais. “I want to go home and live in a white house with a balcony!” she rails. It’s great to hear a rebellion against the orthodoxy of voluntourism or hipster activism, and projecting the self-hate we might feel in response to human suffering onto others may be a true and honest reaction. But if this is what she’s trying to convey, it isn't being expressed clearly enough.

In Memory Of Leaves creates a lovely rapport with its audience but would have benefited from a couple of redrafts or a different lead performer or writer: it doesn’t break in to those unusual exceptions to the rule that writers shouldn’t perform their own work (Christopher Brett Bailey, Daniel Kitson). It could also have done with a director. A bold attempt to take on a difficult subject that needs more work.