BAC's latest innovative offering The Good Neighbour is a collection of three narrative journeys relating to George Neighbour (Tom Bowtell), a Clapham local who does not remember his past.
The central journey, "Young Adventurers", is for children aged 6+ and adults (also on offer is "Early Investigators" for younger kids and "Intrepid Explorers" based in the streets of Clapham) and is a guided treasure hunt around the BAC between beautifully stylised rooms hosted by fun actors with different insights into the mystery.
The belief and infectious energy of the guides and actors can make even the most cynical adult believe that the future is unwritten, all you need is love and there really is a sense of community in this behemoth of a city.
Upon entering one of these rooms we're greeted by a low-lit room full of glass jars. The tinkling sound of dripping water on glass sets the perfect tone of wonderment as the keeper of memories (perfectly played by Matthew Blake) shows us projections of people's lives through his assortment of jam jars. It's a true moment of amazement and a tremendous technical feat.
In "Kablooey!", another Clapham local and former raver Babs (Byrony Kimmings) is smeared against the wall in an explosion-ravaged room. There is an audible gasp from the children as the audience enters and they take relish in releasing her from this enforced paralysis through joke telling and ridiculous dancing, finding, naturally, that "laughter is the best medicine".
Both of these rooms capture the difficulty of presenting such nebulous life lessons while avoiding condescension - the guides on the tour and actors by and large manage this with aplomb. However, at times it's easy to feel that the cast are carrying the narrative along with touch too much control and do not let the young audience engage more fully with the mysterious treasure hunt on offer.
While I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the bowels of the BAC, the children raced on ahead looking for the next interesting set. The whole piece suffers somewhat from an uneven level of fantasy and while gorgeously crafted experimental rooms within the faded darkness of the BAC make for an interesting contrast, energy levels flag in the moments between them.
A bit more coherency in the connections between the rooms and the overall narrative arc would polish an otherwise exciting adventure.
The Good Neighbour is a joyous story that engenders a sense of site-specific wonder and this is no mean feat in a city where we are told to be pleasant to others while austerity bites hard, the threat of riots loom and East London recovers from a summer police state. "Young Adventurers" is fantastic fun, perfect for children and such an endearing and honest piece gives a true sense that without embarrassment or morose sneering, Londoners can still be good neighbours.
- Patrick Brennan