Of all London’s many and ancient theatres, it is Battersea Arts Centre that draws most inspiration from its own building. Its most memorable shows have often been those that escape from the confines of a single room into the hidden spaces of the vast, former town hall. Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death notably took the audience into every available space, from the cellar to the attics. BAC’s Christmas show, The Good Neighbour, returns after its success last year and this time what seems like the entire structure has become a children’s adventure.
The Good Neighbour has changed from 2012: this time the audience is split up into ten groups of adults and children, each guided by an actor. Their mission is to help George Neighbour, a nervous man played by Tom Bowtell, who lives in the building. His friend Monique is helping him to face his fears, of which there are lots – presents, heights, windows, Christmas and much more. Maybe his story is hidden somewhere in the venerable BAC walls? Can the audience explain what he’s doing here?
The journey visits strange, exciting places: a room full of talking lightbulbs; a present exchange; the Momentorium, where memories are stored in jars as drops of water; the Exploding Lady; the lost memories office; a Japanese bee lady living in a hive who tells about her strange dreams. It is a longish trip, but there is plenty to keep children engaged, including wayfinding, present wrapping, introductory electronics, and drawing on the floor in chalk. Much of this is equally good fun for the adults, but they will also enjoy the surrealism and clever fringe aesthetics. Crumbling staircases lead to hidden rooms and cloth-draped spaces, filled with incandescent bulbs, stacks of jars and piles of dusty boxes.
The stories that give The Good Neighbour a narrative backbone were created by seven different writers, developed in true BAC style through collaboration and scratch performances. The pacing sags a little at times, with the final reveal taking the finish perilously close to bedtime. However, despite rather oblique links between individual scenes and the overall story, the many children in the audience on the night Londonist attended thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The actors in charge of shepherding the audience members do an expert job while the creative team, led by Sarah Golding, have woven the show into the building’s normal evening, with the café doing brisk business, Christmas parties getting underway in adjacent rooms and BAC staff coming and going.
Taking a child along would be ideal, but the quality and inventiveness on offer in The Good Neighbour means taller people will find the evening rewarding. Meanwhile anyone young and lucky enough to see the show are guaranteed to remember it for a long time to come.
At the Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN until 4 January with start times of 7pm and 2pm for Saturday matinees. Tickets £16.50 (until 22 December) and £19.50 until 4 January. All children’s tickets £12. To book call 020 7223 2223 or visit the Battersea Arts Centre website. Londonist saw the production on a complimentary ticket.