When I made several trips to Ikea with my new husband to buy Billy bookcases in which to store our vast joint collection of books, I never could have expected to return many years later to watch an Opera which involved the assembly of a Billy bookcase. Yet last night that's just what I did when I attended Mammoth Music Theatre's Flatpack Opera in IKEA at the first night of four free perfomances.

The idea of the opera came to Tom Lane during a shopping experience in IKEA although it did not occur to him at that time to stage it there. His idea stemmed from a feeling that a shopping experience in IKEA is something faintly extraordinary, possibly even operatic. Based on last night's experience I would have to agree with him. Arriving early by mistake I was wandering around the floors with a friend when I noticed the time was getting close to “Curtain up.” I didn't envisage a problem, because I could see several assistants to ask. I asked three, and received three different answers about the start place, and only found the correct one when I followed the megaphoned operatic voice which happily brought me back to the entrance of the shop, traversing several neatly marked tracks, designed to make the visitors reach their 10,000 recommended daily steps for a healthy life.

There were many aspects of Flatpack Opera's performance last night that were truly fascinating. The idea of mixing passers-by and audience was a case in point. As we were led pied-piper fashion through the upper floor by the violin to our next series of sets, our numbers swelled visibly. We had to cope with trollies pushing through us, and seeing people who may or may not have been cast members fingering items on the set in front of which the action took place. The audience was hugely more diverse than the usual opera crowd, with abounding ethnic minorities pulled in by the unexpected show.

The play was minimalist in nature containing only a handful of words in total, no discernable tunes, but some recurring motifs sung well and with verve and wonderful acting, particularly by Catherine Backhouse. The mime was witty and thoughtful throughout as characters put across to the audience their own viewpoints of the action.

The Opera questioned the way we think about our homes and their importance in our lives. The room sets made perfect backdrops and enabled several sets of characters to peer into each other's lives. The reaction of the passers-by to several people seemingly making a mess and singing in one of the newly cluttered kitchen sets in Wembley IKEA was well worth the trip on its own. Would the reaction be similar or different in a Southern European country where visitors may have more time to stop and stare? It would be great to find out.

For me the high point of the performance was a chopping board duet in the kitchen band, but a pair of young teenagers who drifted in may well have had other preferences as they avidly discussed each scene on their way to the next.

According to Rebecca Lea, director, the very idea was to provoke the audience and learn to work with the shoppers, rather than merely see them as an obstacle. The performance last night in Wembley IKEA which will be followed by three more on 3rd, 9th and 10th June was staged on a shoestring, using half professional and half student singers.

Alison Karlin 3rd June 2009