You stand outside the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts (ACPA) and you get yelled at from the balcony—‘Are you going to come play with me?’ / ‘Hurry up!’ / ‘Get inside already!’—and you really, really want to, but you can’t yet. These are the Lost Boys, and this house is Neverland, and you are one of Peter Pan’s guests, waiting outside in the cold.
I turned up to ACPA incredibly worried for the quality of this particular production. Awful/Big Adventure sounded altogether too ambitious, too involved, too over-the-top—it sounded like the kind of Anywhere Festival production that would inevitably fall flat on its face. When it was twenty minutes after starting time and I still hadn’t made it inside, that worry had sunk in entirely.
But I’ve never been more wrong in my whole life.
Not once, not ever.
And I give these words that much significance because Awful/Big Adventure is not only the best show I’ve seen featured in Anywhere Festival in three years of attendance, but it also manages to be a show that simultaneously fits into and transcends the festival, and its ambition and execution proves that the Suicide Ensemble are not just one-hit-wonders—they are something else entirely.
When I got inside I quickly made off on my own through the house. I had received instructions to go to a Garden of some sort—though I lost my map during the blur of the journey so I can’t remember specifics. And I’m not even sure I made it to the Garden, because a Lost Boy named Screech (Finn Kube) dragged me into a bathroom which, he told me, was his favourite place. There was a slime in the bathtub that was three different shades of blue, and I asked if it was moisturiser, and Screech asked me why I would need to moisturise, and I told him it’s because skin gets worse as you age, and Screech said to me: ‘But ageing doesn’t have to happen,’ and from that point on I was hooked.
Screech covered my face with the slime, and I got some on his face and in his hair too. And then there was an announcement on the stairwell, and we ran out past a room where some guests were being told a story by standout Lost Boy Tag (Martelle Simon-Green), and Screech ran ahead of me and didn’t seem to care so much if I followed or not. We were drawn to the house’s widest staircase, where Peter Pan (Brigid Holt) stood staring down at us with a megaphone.
And my face was still covered in slime.
And another guest, Tim, asked me what happened and made suggestive faces.
And I laughed and laughed and laughed.
And Peter Pan yelled.
And the group dispersed, and guests were dragged places by Lost Boys and partaking in quests and taking ‘drugs’ and blowing smoke bubbles and being caught in the middle of drama as Screech bullied Tag, or stole Skunk’s windup duck.
Awful/Big Adventure is a distillation of house parties—of that completely turnt way everyone gets when they’re letting loose in someone else’s home. In Brisbane’s new era of lockout laws, perhaps Awful/Big Adventure is the heightened future of Brisbane’s party scene: drinking goon punch from poppers and locking yourself in bathrooms with strangers to powder sherbet tablets.
And the show is as powerful as it is totally ridiculous and fun. Too much of Awful/Big Adventure is haunting and uncomfortable for its commentary on parties to not leave you a little bit harrowed as you get in the Uber to your next Friday night shindig. The way the Lost Boys act like children while performing all these euphemisms for drug and sex and party culture, and how they continuously talk about never growing up, and how Neverland is a party house, and how if you’re in the party then you’re a child too. To leave is to grow up. To leave, for the Lost Boys, is to wake up from a substance-fuelled blackout: to leave for them is to forget.
The greatest part of Awful/Big, though, is how it manipulates you into picking sides. How you subconsciously start choosing who you’d rather believe or side with in a fictional conflict. How I stood in a stairwell to block Screech so Skunk could try to get her wind-up duck back. None of these decisions were conscious ‘let me see if I can break this show’ decisions; nothing I did during this show did I do cynically. I chose to do what I did because I felt entirely like I was at this party, and like I was just genuinely trying to navigate the complex social situations that always, always arise when you chuck a few strong personalities into the same house for a night.
I went to another party that night, and it had nothing on the experience of Awful/Big Adventure. Maybe it’s because the second party wasn’t a meta-commentary on parties; or wasn’t filled with characters quite as memorable as Tag, Bullshit, Noot, Screech, Skunk, Crumpet, and Peter; or wasn’t set in a beautiful three-storey house that, in nearly two hours, I still didn’t get to see all of. And then, maybe it’s unfair altogether to compare this show to a real party. Because Awful/Big Adventure isn’t just a party, it’s art. It’s fierce and unsettling and a whole lot of fun, and even though I left Neverland when it was all said and done, I took with me the memories of an experience I’ll make sure to never forget.
You can (and really, really should) purchase tickets to Awful/Big Adventure here.
This review is based on the reviewer’s experience of the opening night on Friday May 13.
Full disclosure: The reviewer is friends with and has worked with some members of the creative team involved in this production.