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The Collective Project, Camden People’s Theatre – Review

Andrew Curtis, Will Howells, Mike Carter, Joseph Lidster, Guleraana Mir, Jo Pockett, Polly Churchill and Kate Webster

Directed by Neil Sheppeck, Chris Lawson, Gavin Dent, Richard Jacques, Saraha Ford, Madelaine Moore, Bryony Thomas and Laura Kim
★★★
Pros: Every short play was witty and had moments of light and dark. Having female writers and directors with an all-male cast (and vice versa) made for some interesting perspectives.
Cons: Some of the plays fell into the trap of becoming “message plays” and the strict 12-minute slots meant some of them dragged to fit the time format.
Our Verdict: A great project churning out plays varied enough to be interesting but also governed by an overriding idea that avoided the disjointed feel some new writing nights have. Entertaining and worth braving the winter weather!
Courtesy of The Pensive Federation

New writing nights can be bitty affairs, and the reviews of them more so. So rather than go into detail about each individual play (there were eight of them after all!) I’ll enter into the spirit of The Collective Project and give you a feel of the evening as a whole.

The idea behind The Collective Project is simple: 8 writers, 8 directors, 12 actors, and 12 days to create the work. Most theatre companies might leave it at that and see what the group throws up but The Pensive Federation goes further. They handed out 8 collective nouns to inspire the creative teams, and split the cast and creatives by gender (male actors being paired with female writers and directors, and female actors with male creatives). This gave us as an audience the feeling that everything went together, and the evening flowed well. I didn’t feel that this was too controlling either; the pieces were still all very different.
A night like this would succeed and fail on the group dynamics, the way the cast operated as a collective (I see what they did there). And the two casts worked like a slick, well-oiled machine – not what you’d expect with only 12 days to create the show. The camaraderie between the women was both silly and witty – the dialogue was zippy and sharp as a rapier. The men relied on a more physical brand of comedy, a style that worked equally well. I was not alone when I spent almost all of Polly Churchill’s Caravan in absolute hysterics.
Although the evening leaned more towards comedy, there were some really touching moments for the audience. Kate Webster’s Family was sweet, honest and sad without being cheesy. There were some moments in the evening that did seem a touch fake though, perhaps trying to cram comedy and confession into a 12-minute piece might be too much. 
This brings me to my only other negative for the night; the 12 minute format. With the other guidelines set for the creative teams, putting a time minimum/maximum didn’t seem necessary. Some plays felt like they were exhausted and on their last legs, just about plodding over the 12-minute finish line, when they could have been fantastic 10 minute shows.
Overall, I really enjoyed the evening, I laughed (A LOT), and I was close to tears at points. It was great to see new writing (playing to a packed house!) given not only a space but encouragement, guidance and challenges. A fantastic project – long may it continue.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Collective Project runs at Camden People’s Theatre until 23rd November 2013. 
Box Office: 08444 77 1000 or book online at TicketWeb

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