I’ve only done it once in my life, but there is a little more when it comes to doing the job of a cloakroom attendant than just taking hold of people’s stuff and handing it back to them once it’s time for them to leave the building. I was working in university administration at the time – and the event was a graduation ceremony. An external examiner was going to make a mad dash for the Eurostar back to her home city, Paris, immediately after the ceremony. So, one of us made sure her suitcase was in a position easily retrievable, such that not a second would be wasted when she came, as she said she would, at the earliest possible moment once the proceedings were wrapped up.
The Cloakroom Attendant is partly about that sort of thing but told in a very engaging and entertaining way. For Margot (Dimitra Barla), the novelty of the job has long since worn off, and there’s a palpable sense of frustration as she finds herself once again explaining how cloakroom tags work. There is a solution to her most common problem in the modern era, which I encountered at Vault Festival 2018. The cloakroom there asked patrons to take a photo of their cloakroom tag on their smartphone, and this would be acceptable in case the actual tag was lost. This isn’t foolproof, and the Margots of this world would find themselves getting to grips with various smartphone models that patrons may or may not be proficient with. And then there are those people who think they are being helpful but are really being condescending: one visitor felt it necessary to point out, having handed over their cloakroom tag, regarding their coat, “It is the blue one.” Cue laughter in response to dry wit.
For all the various personalities that come in and out of the cloakroom, there are a few that stand out. The miscellaneous narratives that arise from Margot’s experiences with visitors to The National Treasure, a prominent art gallery, are indicative of the character’s creative and imaginative mind. It is, however, occasionally a little over-active, inasmuch that I struggled to maintain interest every so often if the narrative became too detailed.
This show provides some good and informative insights into what a vital but almost thankless role is like. It comes across more of a stream of consciousness than a coherent structure, which suits the setting of the play. Or, to put it another way, there’s a ‘fringe factor’ about this show, and it would be less impactful in a larger venue.
And then there’s Frankie and Paul, a modern take of Francesca and Paolo from Dante’s Divine Comedy, though there is no need to know anything about the 14th-century poem to follow its reinterpretation in this production. Let’s just say it’s one of those love stories that doesn’t exactly end with everyone living happily ever after. The play as a whole is brief but unhurried, which is quite an achievement for a show with so many stories. Worth seeing.
Review by Chris Comaweng
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.
The Cloakroom Attendant
Writer/Performer Dimitra Barla
Director Natalie Katsou
Producer Laridae Performing Arts
Photographer Yiannis Katsaris and Stefanos Dimitriadis
Performance Dates July 30 th 2018 – August 4 th 2018, 9.15pm
Running Time 45 mins (no interval)
Venue Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower St, London WC2H 9NP