The premise of Notes from Bermondsey Street is that it reveals the secret urban lives of Londoners through their anecdotes written on notes and concealed in the drawer of a table in a café restaurant ‘somewhere in London’. However, Bear Pit Theatre evidently decided this was not an interesting enough premise on its own. Thus they added gargoyle-like masks and actors imitated physical abnormalities by stuffing odd parts of their clothing (such as humped shoulders, bloated stomachs and the like). So, too, the additional proposition that these creatures had been captured by the writing of their notes and were now under the command of the lead masked creature who ordered them to perform any story selected from the drawer by an unsuspecting visitor.
The set was only made up of chairs, used by the twenty-four person cast to create scenes or otherwise to perch upon to leer, cheer on and react from the sidelines. The sinister atmosphere created by the performers’ animalistic and grotesque movements and sounds was laudably effective. With amusing moments and some interesting individual ideas, carried out by pretty good performances on the whole, the play was unfortunately let down by the fact that it was not unified enough in form and content. It felt like a lot of individual, uneven and unconnected styles and ideas brought to the table and thrown in with little regard for the piece as a whole, other than the chief concept that these were all human anecdotes acted out in a number of bizarre ways. The only thing that could have held it together - the repetitive structure of note-choosing and the acting out of each note - became grating as the play went on; the nightmarish became ridiculous, the interesting became nonsensical and the potentially poignant became melodramatic.
I think Notes from Bermondsey Street was a production with a lot of potential; in some of the actors performances, in the concept itself and in the individual ideas brought forward. However, this potential wasn’t reached and a lack of cohesion and sense made this piece chaotic and not in a particularly good way. The moments of atmosphere, occasional interesting ideas, and general good performances were not enough to save this production for me, which left me irritated by its messy, loose and crude presentation of a theoretically fascinating concept.