Review: The Cloakroom Attendant
Photo by Stefanos Dimitriadis
Tonight I shall share with you some of the most exciting secrets of my profession: the study of human nature!
Margot, the cloakroom attendant of a national museum, entertains the audience with her daily stories, while weighing the challenges of a serious relationship and of the unavoidable dilemma: 'to be or not to be a parent?
With wit and sensitivity, artefacts become alive and visitors take mythical dimensions.
Dante's condemned lovers, an unfortunate French queen and an inquisitive boy help Margot balance on a suspended world of imagination, aspirations and self-fulfilment.
After successful performances at the Wallace Collection in London, in Copenhagen and in Athens, Dimitra Barla's autobiographical one-woman show The Cloakroom Attendant, directed by Natalie Katsou, comes to the Camden Fringe.
The title of this monologue, written and performed by Dimitra Barla, is aptly descriptive, at least because the character we focus on is indeed employed as a cloakroom attendant in a museum.
But if you were thinking this might be a hilarious exposé of human foibles in a social context, it doesn't actually turn out to be quite like that, even if we do indeed hear of some 'secrets of the profession' along the way.
Margot works in the cloakroom of the 'National Treasure' - a museum of art.
It's here that we find the (largely) middle classes at their serious play and who comprise Margot's customers at the cloakroom.
Even their children are brought in for some of the same serious play, for example with workshops for them such as "How to make animals from wax", designed, one assumes, to rake-in extra cash to help finance the museum's activities.
Margot, though, has her own form of play while at work.
She's actually a storyteller, so as she describes revealing snippets about her work - delivered as 'chapters' - her imagination wanders and she also tells us stories about a romance, and her interactions with one of the small boys who attends the wax workshop.
There's something rather poetic about Ms Barla's writing style which is reflected in her calmly and unassumingly captivating performance.
And Natalie Katsou's inventively considered direction finds opportunity for almost balletic movement between Margot and the central prop - the coat rack - as well as picture frames that she employs to tell her stories.
Projections of the galleries and exterior locations, and sometimes sinister-sounding jazz add extra layers to the ambience, so the piece becomes something far more than just a person standing behind a counter recounting trade secrets, and that seems wholly appropriate from a creative perspective as well as more interesting and intriguing from the point of view of the audience.
In terms of the secrets of a cloakroom attendant, Margot does give us some insights, though they are respectfully solicitous rather than outrageously indiscreet.
Among other things, we learn that sweaty scarves need to be handled with care, and of the powerful influence of the word "free" in relation to use of the cloakroom, which leads museum visitors dragging every item they carry out of their hiding places to be left in Margot's care.
And, like Margot, the visitors are similarly discreet, whispering their requests for directions to the toilets.
Ms Barla's endearing and quietly hypnotic monologue is perhaps a touch too brief, though it nevertheless feels a complete and seamless whole, offering an insider's view of a job we take for granted, but imaginatively adding a secondary layer of creative story-telling to widen the concept.
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ActDrop listing for Tristan Bates Theatre
Our show listing for The Cloakroom Attendant
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