Camden Fringe 2023
You can’t fault Act II Festival for going all out to provide the complete festival experience with their devised piece, Neverland. We’re stopped first on the stairs heading in, then again by a decidedly bored guard at the main door waving us in with complete disinterest. But it’s Yuqi Liang’s over-zealous security guard that is the real pre-show star, who only wants to ensure we have a good time, as long as we do it responsibly and by her rules.
Created over just a few weeks from an initial idea put forward by the Act II team, the collection of young theatre makers (six actors and five production crew) have then fleshed it out into a series of scenes that could easily be subtitled “A day in the life of a festival goer”. These include a swift guide from hippy new age type Brooke Camilleri Agius, who gives her amusing workshop on the categories of people you might meet at a festival, some group dancing where words really aren’t necessary to portray the shared experience that only a music festival can provide, and just moments of togetherness that are more a testament to the ethos that Act II has clearly generated with their work in providing a stepping stone into professional theatre for those taking that early move.
It all blends together to provide a feelgood show that has me smiling throughout, partly in recognition of the characters portrayed and partly out of sheer delight at the pure and simple joy of the whole experience. There is an absolute truth of festivals when someone declares that you come here for the weekend, have the most amazing time, then go back to work on Tuesday.
The beauty of the whole does hide a few issues that could be addressed to complete the experience. Even though it is a collection of scenes it could still benefit with a common thread to bind it all together; the central device of a festival is not quite enough to act as the glue. It is almost achieved through a (puppet) man made out of a collection of clothes, wonderfully manipulated to form a person who moves through the festival. It’s cleverly done, drifting in and out of scenes as we travel around the event, but much like its physical body, it is never quite fully formed: this could have been used as the common denominator to give the show greater cohesion. The other issue that needs a rethink is the ending. It takes the audience a while to realise the final scene is in fact the six performers taking their individual bows before they disappear into their tent. This leaves us unsure whether to applaud or not, and instead results in an awkward pause as we all hang suspended, hands ready to clap. It’s a shame to finish this way as they all deserve the applause that eventually comes.
But these are small quibbles, ones that would help enhance the whole experience. There are many more moments where it is a glorious shared experience. The addition of Ansh Mehta’s DJ/ performer is one more of these, adding another layer of the feel of a community. And his shared reduction with Drew Gregg of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams is that festival highlight you always have, that moment you will talk about with your friends long after the weekend is over.
Neverland is another feather in Act II’s growing cap, a beautiful demonstration of what can happen when you bring young creatives together and give them the right encouragement and support. It certainly left me yearning to be back at a music festival soon.
Devised by: Rosie Pierce, Ansh Mehta, Drew Gregg, Maddie Dunn, Brooke Camilleri Agius, Yugi Liang, Amy Tickner, Tara Choudhary, Dhanush Ghiridar, Gabrielle Osella, Maja Jadachowska
Tech operator: Charlie Raca
Directed by: Amy Tickner
Lighthing design by: Conor Costelloe
Produced by: Gabrielle Osella, Maja Jadachowska for Act II Festival
Neverland played at Lion and Unicorn Theatre as part of Camden Fringe 2023. It has a second run at the same venue from 24 – 28 October, further information and bookings can be found here.