Home » Reviews » Off West End » The Collective Project, Camden People’s Theatre

The Collective Project, Camden People’s Theatre

Presented by The Pensive Federation
★★★

Pros: The concept is fantastic and original. The acting is dynamic and there is lots of contrast from each of the plays. The more you think about what is going on, the more subtleties surface.

Cons: There was some stereotyping and understandably after only twelve days it wasn’t entirely polished. It was a shame when it ended!

Our Verdict: An innovative idea delivered by an up-and-coming group with bags of talent.

Courtesy of The Pensive Federation

First things first. This is a fantastic concept: “Four new twelve minute plays created in just twelve days. Six actors, four writers and four directors, working as collaboratively as possible to explore group politics and team dynamics, all the while seeking magic in the mundane. The inspiration? Collective nouns”. This is precisely what is delivered. The four scenarios presented are fairly mundane. The focus is really on what is happening between the characters in each of the scenarios. The delivery is dynamic and energetic, reinforced by the contrasts between the four plays themselves. There are so many layers, I couldn’t possibly probe them all here, and to do so would be a real spoiler. Suffice to say that these plays may have been created in a short period of time, but they were not short on things to think about.

The production opens with Swarm. A group of school-aged teens getting the bus seem at a loose end, preoccupied with their immediate issues – maths, relationships, mobile phones. Then something happens, and although unsure, their collective interest is piqued, and they unify and move together urged on by the ‘buzz’ of the leader. The next play is Galaxy. A band is on it’s way to a gig and has to pull over. The characters here, although members of the same band, seem miles apart (perhaps light years?), each of them having completely different motivations and aspirations for their common future.

The production continues after the interval with Set, an apt description of a group of teachers at a school discussing the suspension of one of their own. The reference is pertinent as they rally together at first before they start to polarise as the facts of the matter are divulged. And finally Bevy, where a group of friends gather on a particular day each year at the same pub, each of them clearly leading different lives, drawn together by the familiarity of the past with veiled awareness of their impact on each other.

There are so many really enjoyable things about this production. The writing is excellent – the more you think about what is happening the more complexity evolves and reveals itself from essentially simple scenarios. The capable performances from Oliver Britten, John-Paul Conway, Sian Gordon, Adam Martin, Danielle Nott and Carly Sheppard are really very good. In the space of an hour they each play four very different roles, using different mannerisms and accents, with artful persuasion. The range of characters and the conviction in the relationships that they are able to develop in twelve short minutes is so impressive. There are shining moments in the direction, in particular the opening scene where the ‘hoodies’ swarm, and the brilliant way the action in Bevy is delivered between the countdown to the photograph being taken, individual stories being told whilst the remaining cast are frozen in the moment. I really like the titles and the music that accompanies them too. It is a really successful way to disconnect each play from the next and gives the audience a moment to think about the meaning of the collective noun that is to be explored. It’s very hard to believe that it has been created from nothing in just twelve days.

There are some weaknesses. I wasn’t as convinced during Galaxy as I was during the other plays for example. There were a few awkward moments in the dialogue, but I feel it’s unfair to dwell on the unpolished aspects of the production – after all, nothing existed a fortnight ago! I found the interval broke the energy that the plays were building, and felt perhaps it was a little unnecessary after just half an hour of performance.

My more substantial complaint relates to the fact that The Pensive Federation aims to strip away issues of race, religion, and sexuality to examine all that matters beneath. The cast however, are all white and of a similar age – there is no diversity within the group. They skillfully present characters from differing socio-economic backgrounds, however the female and male characters are stereotyped – I feel the content isn’t really touching on race, religion or sexual persuasion. That being said, there is a lot of depth in the content for such short and varied performances.

But above all, my big complaint about this production was that there wasn’t more of it! It’s such a great idea delivered in a very engaging way, and I really enjoyed it – it was a shame that it was over in an hour.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Collective Project runs at the Camden People’s Theatre until 6th October 2012.
Box Office: 08444 77 1000 or book online at

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