Life amid echoes of the past

The Forensics Of A Flat

Birmingham Rep

****

When Francesca Millican-Slater moved into a 1970’s flat in South Birmingham she lost her heart to its wooden panelling, its colourful carpeting and its flickering strip lights.

While many of us love the places we live, few of us would think of turning that relationship into a theatre show. But that is just what Millican-Slater has done with The Forensics Of A Flat.

Staged at Birmingham Rep’s The Door, the production is a monologue with songs and slides which recreates her experiences in the flat and its history.

In doing so, we come across a whole range of colourful characters. There’s ‘Landlord’ who constantly asks her how long she wants to stay as he has high hopes of modernisation. Francesca Millican SlaterThere are his ‘Boys’ who paint the door of her flat while she is inside without her even knowing. There are the bakers in the café who call her Laura for months on end. And there is the flat itself.

Francesca brings the flat alive with humorous descriptions, photos and floor plans so that we soon know our way around its nooks and crannies.

It is certainly idiosyncratic and the reason for that becomes clear as Francesca shares its story with us. Over the years the building, which housed a shop on the ground floor, has had a number of guises including a fruit and vegetable shop, where the women held court while the men went to war, and a television repair shop – whose demise was brought about by cheap televisions and the computer age.

Francesca Millican-Slater telling the world about her flat

Her flat was formerly the offices for the television company and she reveals that the lounge used to be the board room and the bedroom was the stationery room.

Millican-Slater has dedicated hours of research into not just the history of her own building but also the surrounding area and she vividly recreates the heyday of local cinema, the excitement of a new row of shops and the optimism of the planners who believed the future lay in urbanisation.

But there is plenty of tragedy and sadness here as we see the demise of certain industries, the replacement of some amenities and the sometimes unpleasantly judgemental society of the past. During her digging, Francesca comes across the history of a building known as The Haunch where ‘feeble-minded women’ were kept away from the prying eyes of neighbours. Sadly, she tells us, in most cases these women were characterised as such just for having children when they weren’t married.

Francesca is an engaging performer. She has a gift for lively story-telling and an audience naturally warms to her. It is a skill honed in her successful one-woman show Me, Myself and Miss Gibbs, in which she recounted her attempts to track down the identity of ‘Miss Gibbs’ after discovering a note on the back of a postcard.

At 90 minutes, The Forensics Of A Flat would benefit from a bit of trimming, but it is entertaining and thought-provoking. How many of us actually know the history of our own homes or local areas and the people and the stories hidden in their walls?

The flat itself has already moved on. Francesca tells us she now lives underneath as Landlord took out the panelling and threw away the carpets, replacing it with magnolia walls and cream carpets. Unwilling to live there in its new guise she chose a different flat in the same building where we can hope she is already at work devising a new tale to share with audiences. To 31-05-14

Diane Parkes

30-05-14 

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