As a site-specific theatre-maker, I am deeply interested in how, upon artistic excavation, buildings may reveal interwoven stories from the past. The history of the Notre Dame site as a viewing point for ‘exotic’ peoples greatly fuels my imagination. I am trying to theatrically reenact the panorama through workshops with refugee actors. For Richard Boon and Jane Plaistow, community theatre:
‘Encourages the taking of space (literal and metaphorical) and the raising of self esteem, so that participants come both to question the root causes of their problems and oppressions – a process that leads from the micro to the macro, and from the particular community to the wider polity – and to believe that they can take centre stage to give voice and expression to their understandings’.
By giving the audience a direct portal into the lives of marginalised people, who might not otherwise have access to theatre, ‘micro’ stories can be vocalised and heard. Empowering the refugees to give their own testimonies may reverse historically two-dimensional, Eurocentric visions of international peoples, thereby generating ‘a process that leads from the micro to the macro’. By returning to narrow Victorian perspectives of ‘the world’, new scenes can be rehearsed, which might challenge stereotypical preconceptions about refugees today. For Kelleher, ‘future utopias can be located at the site of a performed past’. He suggests that by questioning the present and returning to the past, site-specific performance can create a platform for future visions. How might Victorian vistas of the site have a theatrical conversation with contemporary visions?
Panorama, Leicester Square was built by Robert Barker, (d. 1806), inventor of the species of exhibition which gives its name to the building. The exhibitions at the Panorama are always among the most pleasing novelties of the London season. The paintings are changed every year.
Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850
SEBASTOPOL IN LEICESTER SQUARE.
To see Sebastopol it is not necessary to go abroad it is enough to travel to the foreign quarter of London only. This journey has been performed by ourselves. We have been to see MR. BURFORD’S Panorama of Sebastopol in Leicester Square, and recommend all our readers who are within reach of it to do themselves the same pleasure. The London “season” being now over, there are few places either of instruction or entertainment remaining, open, and this is a place of both. Moreover, as Rank and Fashion have for the most part left Town, the possibility of seeing all that is to be seen in the Panorama – to wit:, very much – is likely to be increased by some diminution of the hitherto attendant crowd of the nobility, gentry, and clergy. There will be less danger than there has been heretofore of having one a corns crushed by a duke, of being hustled by an earl, or elbowed about and squeezed by peeresses and maids-of-honour, the bulk of a bishop being, in the meanwhile, interposed between one’s eye and the canvas. However, to secure a good view of the exhibition, it may be advisable to go early in the morning, while Rank and Fashion are at breakfast, or late in the afternoon when Rank and Fashion are at dinner.
Sebastopol is depicted as firing and under fire, and the first impression derived from the view of the beleaguered city, presented by MR. BURFORD, is that of astonishment at the preternatural stillness, comparatively speaking, of the scene. Comparatively speaking, because a considerable noise is being made by MRS. MAJOR M’GAB, or some other military lady, who is sure to be present, and to be explaining the positions of the Allies with commanding gestures, in a loud voice. Astonishment, because the picture has such an air of reality, and the smoke of the bombardment looks so particularly natural, as to make you wonder at not bearing the artillery’s roar and the crack of the rifles.
The visitor finds himself situated, with reference to the Crimea, precisely as, with allowance for change of circumstances, he would be with regard to London if he were on the top of St. Paul’s: except that the objects below him do not seem so distant, and that the smoke of the ordnance does not obscure the prospect like the smoke of the chimneys. He sees the hays and harbours that surround the Crimean coast, the Allied Fleets, the enemy’s vessels, as many as have not been sunk, and the mast-heads of those; and all the forts and batteries – the Mamelon, Malakhoff, Redan, Flagstaff, Quarantine, Constantine, Nicholas, Alexander, Star, and so forth: also the encampments of the Allies and the head-quarters of the Generals, together with a number of other objects which, recalled to his mind’s eye, will enable him to read the Times every morning with the advantage of illustrations.
There is somebody present (besides MRS. M’GAB) who will oblige the company with any information they may desire in reference to the particulars of the Panorama.
It is not too much to say, that those who visit MR. BURFORD’S Sebastopol will see more of that City than they would if they we stationed before the CZAR’S: for the Panorama was painted some little time ago, since when a great many of the buildings represented in it have been demolished: and we hope the time will very soon come when the only correct picture of Sebastopol will be the accurate likeness of certain heaps of rubbish.
There is one very important difference between the prospect of Sebastopol held out by MR. BURFORD, and that afforded by the Government – and paid for by the tax-payers. The Downing Street one is rather expensive: that in Leicester Square will cost nobody more than a shilling.
Punch, August 25, 1855
Panorama, Burford’s, Leicester Square … open every day, Sunday excepted, from 11 till dusk. Admission to each view 1s.
Burford’s Panorama – Among the various attractive exhibitions of London, is that belonging to Mr. Burford, situated at the Eastern corner of Leicester Square, where a series of unrivalled productions, from the pencil of that distinguished painter, afford a truly gratifying treat to the curious in topographical delineation. There are, generally, two views of celebrated places; admission to each view, 1s., and catalogues 6d.
Mogg’s New Picture of London and Visitor’s Guide to it Sights, 1844
Interview 1: Congolese woman, fifties.
1. WHEN DID YOU FIRST COME TO THIS PLACE?
Maybe 7 years ago. I don’t know. I think it was 2005.
2. WHICH IS ROOM IN THIS BUILDING IS YOUR FAVOURITE?
The food, the people, this room [the cafe].
3. DO YOU LIKE THIS PLACE? WHY DO YOU COME HERE?
I like this place because people nice, they care, they enjoy for see people. You understand? This place is good for help people. You refugee, you have problems. You come here to enjoy. You have problems – cut your money, cut your house. You come here you have consolation. You happy. Before I had pain. Here, I am happy. I tell people, you respect people. Volunteers here. The people working here – respect people’.
4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEMORY OF THIS ROOM?
At Christmas, they had the party, the food. Bring musicians. They come here from different countries. Or you bring a CD from your country.
5. HOW DO YOU TRAVEL HERE?
I come here by bus, sometimes by train. A long way. I change 3 buses and then a train. I take Victoria line. I think 2 hours each way.
6. HOW OFTEN DO YOU COME HERE?
Sometimes Mondays and sometimes Thursdays. When I have a problem I
come both days.
7. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS PLACE IN ONE WORD?
Interview 2: Congolese Man fifties
1. WHEN DID YOU FIRST COME TO THIS PLACE?
4 years ago.
2. WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE ROOM?
This space [corridor]. I like this space. We sit, we talk, we discuss. Most of the time I sit here. People are moving. I don’t mind. Inside it’s noisy. It’s busy. You can’t talk.
3. DO YOU LIKE THIS PLACE?
I like it. If I didn’t like it I wouldn’t come here for four years! I like the atmosphere. The place is nice. You can meet people from different backgrounds. Four years ago I was new. I was happy because it was French. That’s why I came here very quickly – very easy for me to integrate. I can also speak Congolese with people here. I speak nine languages – Chinese, Russian, Korean, Swahili, Arabic, French,Italian…I learned Tigrina – Eritrean language – friends come here from there and they teach me their language.
In my next blogpost, I will report back on a practical workshop I am facilitating in the refugee centre tomorrow, based on identity and ownership of the space. I hope this will provide a more intuitive, communal way into the site for participants to compliment our spoken, one-to-one interviews.
 Richard Boon and Jane Plastow (eds), Theatre and Empowerment: Community Theatre on the World Stage, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) p. 7.
 Joe Kelleher, Theatre & Politics (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) p.54.