The Flat Stuff Archive

I live in a flat made of wooden walls, 70’s carpet and doors that are locked from the other side. In the dark of the night, I put my ear to the wooden walls and listen to the building. It tells of finger prints on door handles, skin cells in the carpet, ghosts in the plumbing, what it used to be and what it will become.

This is the beginning of something new, a new performance that I’m aiming to have finished for touring next year. At the moment it’s still in the early stages, that infant stage that’s needy and begs attention. I scratched a twenty or so minute version at Pulse Festival in early June, which went down well, with some good feedback and things to think about.

At the moment it takes the form of something like a performance presentation* with a touch of stand up, an element of documentary, the feel of a karaoke night and inevitability of a doomed love affair.

*Not as formal as it sounds, it just means I use a power power. And I do like a power point, it allows me to make small theatre in silly ways at the touch of a button. Spinning slide change, anyone? Key burns?

Photo by Pete Ashton

How it Started

I’ve lived in the flat since February 2012, had to go through a padlocked gate, a security light to get in. Known that it was not always my flat, my home, it had a life before I made it mine. I started to investigate what it was before; the shop below, the offices above. Half imagined conversations and actions that took place in the walls that I  live.

It made me think about the ghosts of people past, how a version of the place I live still exists as it was, on google earth or somewhere, from years before. People I’ll never know.

Its made me think about home. About song lyrics that make a house a home. About the things that have happened in this building and the things that might. But it’s my home and my street, my shops,  where wine is cheap and the gossip free, where I get asked how I’m doing, how it’s nice to see me, my community , of sorts.

I continued to live there even though the windows crack and wake me from my sleep,  I have no proper curtains and read by the sulpher light of street lamp, that I half awake to strange shapes and imagined people.

It’s going to be turned into shiny new flats. What I yearn for, will no longer exist. And the shop it was for 40, 50, 60 years no longer exists. But I’ve begun collecting memories, stories, plans and clues about what it once was. What this row of shops means to people that live in and around it. Allusions to mysterious buildings that no longer exists. Childhood tales that bounce from roof to roof. Putting together the stories of people that make this place a home for them and for me.

Where it’s going

There’s a personal story at the centre of this- I’m thinking Daphne du Maurier and her obsessive attachment to Menabilly, the real house on which Manderly is based in Rebecca, but instead of an old country house, it’s a suburban flat that used to be offices for a TV rental company.  Then there is the bigger picture, the other stories that encircle it, how far back I can go in the history of the building and it’s surrounding area. How this row of shops offers microcosm of a community that could be in any suburb, in any city, but somehow isn’t. I’ve begun to interview people; my landlord who plays a part in the piece, the man who runs the party shop, L, a man who maps this area in childhood memories. I’m trying to peice together that sense of place from other people’s stories, layer upon layer. Decade upon decade.

It’s also about change, about acceptance of change and time and technology. But also nostalgia, my own, other people’s a remembrance for things that have no place. Slot pay TV’s, VHS, Teletext, Analogue things that have no use aside from our fetishisation of the past (mine particularly-all my work has some historical research element to it).

Shops that have shut down, because convenience is no longer local. Video rentals, hardware stores. Places from our childhood that still exist in peripheral memory until we discover that they don’t.  (There’s a blog post here that’s quite specific to this).

There’s also a Karaoke theme that runs in the background like music to a love story (this becomes apparent as to why, when you see it, when I’ve made it fully), and a bit of horror (a cliche in a woman living on her own), possibly a bit of detectives (CSI ridiculousness,  forensics in the lightest sense) and pigeons. And loss. I think I probably mentioned loss.

Everything Must Go

As part of this I’m collecting images of shops that have shut down.  Email me with an image of a shut down shop, or an old haunt, and if you want your details or your memory of it.

You can also tweet me @FranMillicanS #everythingmustgo

What’s going to happen?

Like a massive spider chart in my head with everything branching off, I’m not sure what this will become. The form might change, I might have a karaoke machine, a glitter curtain and a really nice dress. Or a crappy microphone and a pair of jeans…I’ll be making different things and throwing stuff away, starting again. It’s opening at The Rep, Birmingham at the end of May and then off to Pulse Festival in Ipswich.

                                                    Photo by Pete Ashton

More within the horror theme here’s an audio recording made about getting into The Flat.

Getting to The Flat

As always get in contact for any stories, feedback, points of view.

2 Responses to The Flat Stuff Archive

  1. Pingback: Francesca Millican-Slater | Pippa Does Producing

  2. Hi Fran, Very much enjoyed your show last night at Plumley Village Hall. It made us ( me and my wife Hazel ) think of places we’d lived in previously that had a checkered history, in particular the wonky flat in Lambeth Walk ( of jolly Cockney dance fame!) in South London where we lived for 15 years. The pokey flat was above what used to be an engineering shop ( you could still see the spray of oil from lathes on the walls) as the place opened out behind the main living area into workshops- very Tardis like! And behind that it was knocked through to what once was a meat pie factory. Now it was was workshops for advertising models – large packets of cigarettes for Benson and Hedges, model villages for White Horse whisky etc. So an awful overpowering smell of paint and fibre glass always drifted up through the wobbly floorboards to the flat above. Anyway, to cut a long story short it was said that the Great Train Robber , Buster Edwards, once lived there, or gambled there ( once it was a gambling den ) . The locals also told us they had suspicions if could also have been a brothel. So a lot of history in those walls – if they could talk what tales eh?!

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