“This is the same show that people know and love but it’s going to look so much better”: Alan Fletcher and Georgie Stone on Neighbours – A New Chapter
Neighbours is the longstanding Australian series that garnered fans across the globe with its relatable storylines, family at its core and a platform that seemed to launch a swathe of famous faces. Viewers were left distraught when suddenly in 2022 the series announced it was no longer going into production. Fast forward a matter of months, fans signed petitions to have it reinstated and Amazon Freevee picked up the show, dusted it off and breathed new life into the popular soap.
A host of new faces, including Mischa Barton of OC fame, were added to the bill, and all the beloved characters from past and present signed on the dotted line to bring it back to screen. With an updated version of the same theme tune, with vocals from The Voice winner Chris Sebastian, the beloved drama airs again and brings the story forward two years ahead from where it left off.
The Upcoming had the chance to speak to Alan Fletcher (Karl Kennedy) and Georgie Stone (Mackenzie Hargreaves) about their surprise at hearing Neighbours had been picked up for a new series, where they were when they found out they were being drafted back in and what fans can expect from the storylines in this new chapter.
Where were you both when you found out the show was returning?
Georgie Stone: I was on my couch watching some TV show like The Office. We got a message in the cast group chat with someone saying they’d heard a rumour that Neighbours was going to come back and we were all very dismissive of it. I was just dumbstruck for the next hour really not knowing if I’d be asked back.
Alan Fletcher: Of course, Jackie, myself Stefan and Ryan had all been contacted by the producer Jason on the Friday before the announcement and asked back as they wanted some of the characters signed up before it started. Everyone jumped on board immediately, we shot some promos but had to stay super secret. We were members of the group chat and we stayed silent which was a bit tell-tale.
You’ve been filming since April – returning this week is there a heightened sense of excitement to see viewers’ reactions to the storylines as the weeks unfold?
AF: Publicising the show has been amazing. In the UK talking about the show I love, everywhere you go, everyone you talk to you feel like the excitement level is more high-pitched than it ever was. The support here is huge and we feel very well supported in Australia too. I mean this is the same show that people know and love but it’s going to look so much better because we’ve had time to ask ourselves how we can make it better, to elevate it, the scripting, the way it’s been shot, this incredible new story arc from the get-go. It’s a show people love but it’s also a new show for new people to tune in and watch.
Alan, where do we see Karl and Susan’s storylines in this new chapter? Do they hit rocky times?
AF: The one thing about Neighbours is that it does have enormous humanity. Whether a relationship succeeds or fails, the writers deal with it with humanity and care. We don’t try and heighten things ridiculously so that when people look at Karl and Susan they can imagine that it’s true that they would do that given any of their situations. So what I can promise to viewers is, yes there are some secrets running around the Kennedy house. We have the addition of young Holly who is very much Izzy’s child, so that causes another layer in the house. So Karl and Susan have a few things to work out in the coming weeks, and there are some challenging scenes, some great scenes, and I think people will enjoy it.
Georgie, your long-term character Mackenzie has been transformational for the show, especially in terms of reaching out to a new audience and giving a younger demographic of transgender people a voice. How did you feel when you got the call to return to this character and what are you most excited for audiences to see with your journey this time around?
GS: I was so excited when they asked me to come back. When it was announced, I just wasn’t sure whether they would ask me back, especially because where we left Mackenzie last she was in a really dark place. She’d just got married to Hendrix and then he died a few days later. We’d left her in this very sad part of her life, so coming back, my mission statement was to give Mackenzie some happiness and some healing. I think that’s where we see her, coming back after grieving for two years and starting to see people again and being a young woman.
What do fans ask you when they see you about the new show?
AF: Mostly they just ask if I’ve managed to pick up any medical knowledge along the way…
GS: Have you?
What was the first day of filming like being back on set?
GS: It was so cool. It was a bit of pressure because I remember being on Ramsay Street and there were paparazzi and fans, so it was weird trying to get in the headspace of filming again but whenever you turned around there were a group of people at the end of the road screaming and cheering. What I really loved was seeing the new actors getting that experience for the first time even though the fans didn’t know them or they hadn’t been announced yet, they just seemed really excited for them too.
AF: I found the first day quite nerve-racking because when you’ve done a show like Neighbours for 28 years, it’s like wearing an old suit. You feel very relaxed within yourself and the team but when you’re bringing in so many new people, highly professional people in the camera or lighting team or in fact in every department and they’re bringing fresh ideas in, you realise you have to approach this new chapter as a new job. So I became hyper-focused and it became important to me to read every script even if I was in it or not so I could get a real understanding of the show I was in, like I was coming back to film a feature film.
What’s it been like for both of you coming back to film with Ian Fletcher who plays Harold in this? Georgie, you had some screen time with him in the last season. Do you get that time again? And Karl, are there some difficult scenes you film with him?
GS: Yes, I loved filming those scenes, I felt so honoured and it was really lovely. I do have some scenes with him again in this new chapter and I just love that unexpected friendship, which is what Neighbours does so well, this cross-generation friendship. That divide doesn’t exist here so much.
AF: For fans of Neighbours they’ll know that Harold is a comedy figure, old “Jelly Belly”. He brings an enormous amount to this new chapter: he brings fear, almost terror, and working with him this time we had some intense scenes that were deeply personal. I mean, Karl himself is starting to approach that age himself where he knows what’s happening to Harold could also happen to him, so they’re much closer to each other in that way than they’ve ever been before.
What was your reaction when you heard Terese and Toadfish were going to get married?
AF: I was in the UK on a massive Zoom call and they were all sitting in a boardroom in Melbourne and it was 9am over there and 1am in my hotel room here and I squealed. I think the fans are going to have the same reaction as it’s this big twist and the writing is so well crafted. This is the whole thing with this two-year gap, there’s this mystery but we say to fans, stick with us because everything becomes clear in the most fantastic way.
GS: It was so cool actually and the way our executive producer Jason explained it all when that reveal was made, I was thinking, “This is top-tier Neighbours.“
There are so many old faces that return to this new chapter, as well as plenty of new ones, but is there anyone who hasn’t yet made that return that you’d like to see back?
GS: Margot. I love her, I mean she’s not going to come back but her yes. Or even Delta Goodrem. I was obsessed with her when I was a kid.
AF: Yes she was super. Jason our producer is fantastic at luring people back in and he’s very persistent as well, he never gives up on the possibility of bring characters back. I do love the idea that Izzy would appear again now that Holly is a regular on Ramsay Street, Izzy has this fantastic way of causing the worst possible problems for the Kennedys and of course, any of the Kennedy children – when they come back it’s a joy.
What is your earliest memory of Neighbours Georgie?
GS: The first time I found out about it I was probably four and my mum did a guest role on it as Karl’s lawyer when he was getting divorced. Toadie was Susan’s lawyer and my mum played a character called Roda El Rubio, which I think is the best character name ever. I didn’t watch it a lot as a kid but then when I was a teenager I remember watching it more. Even when I didn’t watch it it was always a presence. I always knew it was there. Then working on it I realised how special and cool it actually was.
Neighbours: A New Chapter is released on Amazon Freevee on 18th September 2023.
Watch the trailer for Neighbours: A New Chapter here: