The Good Neighbour is the quintessence of a family show. There are three routes which are categorised by age recommendations, the first is for 0-5 year olds (Tiny Investigators), the second is between 6-12 (Young Adventurers-although great fun for adults too) and the third is for all those 13+ (Intrepid Explorers). The hope is that families of varying sizes and ages can all go to the theatre together and enjoy a shared experience. All three shows are inspired by one story: the story of George Neighbour, who died in the 1909 fire at Arding and Hobbs, local departmental store, saving two women. His plaque can be found behind a deep-red curtain at BAC, a reminder of the buildings long standing status as a town hall. These themes of history, community, selflessness, fire and life inspired by George’s death thread through all three performances. Yet they are related to their audience in different and appropriate ways. So whilst either mum or dad can take the 1 year old and three year old into one room and theatrical experience, the 7 and 9 year old can go on their own chaperoned adventure around the theatre visiting different worlds inside the numerous rooms, leaving the remaining adult the freedom to take their own journey outside the building and visiting important sites in the story, including the departmental store where George perished.
Whilst the conception for the show is lovely, the over zealous attempt to keep this complicated show under the umbrella of one big show has proven to be a strategic nightmare. If you book online, the routes are not separated out, but you buy so many tickets for The Good Neighbour. You’ll then be emailed about the different journeys, to which you need to reply and therefore confirm which route you intend each family member to take. If you successfully book then when you arrive there is still much more to contend with (although more likely to affect the organisers than the punters). You collect your tickets and then assuming you have replied to the email then you will be told to collect your different stickers which will demonstrate which route you are on; Tiny Investigators have stars, Young Adventurers round numbered stickers (which you could be one of nine) and The Intrepid Explorers Rosettes (which you could be either blue, red, green or yellow). If you haven’t replied to that booking email then the route you had intended on going on may be all booked out, so you either change or you go on the route causing a massive headache for the performers and may risk ruining the show.
When you booked online, you also had the choice of including a meal deal. Even if you’re not eating, you’ll be taken to a seat, which is another important conception of the show, being about community and having that time to all come together and take a moment to sit down.
If you are finding this difficult to follow, then let this be a testament to the complexity of the booking system and show itself.
So once you’ve got past all of that, and it is time for the show you will be ushered into the foyer, where you are to stand at the bottom of the grand marble stair case. Here Nina will talk to you all. She will welcome you into the building and if it was possible you hadn’t realised, she’ll bring your attention to the different stickers or rosettes on your chest and tell you to act according to what route you are on. Those with stars are signaled over to Bees Knees (the normal creche area of the theatre) the Young Adventurers with rounded numbered stickers are going upstairs into the beautiful Council Chamber-no running- and the rosette wearers should wait where they are, where they will be collected by Richard and given further instructions. Phew!
When the adults are left and Richard arrives, he talks to the audience casually, without haste, responding to the jeering evening audience member with a blue floppy hat- and he sets a scene of stories, history and a sensational aroma of lavender that grew on the hill. He is soon joined by the remaining three performers who are each carrying a brass instrument and together they invite the audience out, out into the street. The audience is then divided into four groups of ten, which is highlighted by the colour of their rosette. The instruments the performers were wearing are passed on to the audience members, who take turns in carrying them throughout the show. Each group has two instruments, creating an image of a brass band as they parade down the street. Music becomes another important theme in the show and the instruments are fitted with speakers, to create an atmosphere throughout. Walkers-by look on with interest as music pours out into Lavender hill, with different songs from local bands and The Good Neigbour Band managed by Lewis Gibson, as the performers move between stories. The stories themselves recount local social history and are linked poignantly with the London riots of 2012 that devastated the Clapham Junction area. Testaments are recounted from both rioters and business’ of the local area. The presence of local voices are poignant and given situational and geographical context by visiting the sites of the stories that are being told. Throughout the show audience members switch between performers; they enter and exit buildings; they have snack breaks; they wear masks and remove them, they have drink breaks, they wear bowler hats and doff them, until finally in one big group they parade up the street back to BAC to meet with family members on the other parts of the journey.
Meanwhile the Young Adventurers have been trying to help George from the comfort of BAC itself. George, who happens to be a staff member at BAC, has no idea who he is. Apart from his name (which can be found on his apron), he knows nothing about himself, so has recruited the children to help him find out his story. The audience are split into nine groups, and together with a guide are sent around the building to discover new worlds and find out George’s truth. They are sent crawling into Kazuko Hohki soft beehive; meet the exploding Babs in Bryony Kimming’s dark charred out room; stumble into Matthew Blake and Kirsty Harris’s Momentorium, an otherworldly place where the Momentologist stores peoples’ lives in jam jars until they are ready to be sealed; they have a nap by a talking tree who takes you by the roots and finally have a serious meeting in Coney’s room to discuss a pre-set agenda about George. After each room the audience are a little bit closer to finding Geroge’s story, which is found at last with George himself. In the final scene George pulls out a Newspaper article from his smoldering apron pocket which reveals all.
The show ends with an all round party – as the adult sup mulled wine and the children dance to Beber.
The show is on its fourth and final week, and has procured sparkling reviews. Lyn Gardener’s belated review of the show this week has awarded another four stars to the mantle piece (which is currently lined with a eclectic mixture of clocks, both broken and not). There is rumours that the show will tour, with Director and conceptionist Sarah Golding keen to encourage contributors to make this happen. Yet don’t wait around. The show is beautiful and despite the functional difficulties, BAC does not allow this to seep into the performance. So buy tickets. You won’t be disappointed.