Pros: The whole concept is just brilliant.
Cons: As a promenade performance, sometimes what one’s able to see depends on the position in relation to the action.
Some things can’t be made up. This was my conclusion after attending Phoenix Rising, the resounding account of one young man’s journey through life.
We first see Callum on the racetrack; the fastest but also the most aggressive of the group. He shouts at everyone, making it clear he’s got nobody and nothing other than his legs to credit for the win. Not a family, not friends, not even himself.
Moving to the next set within the dark car park underneath Smithfield Meat Market, we find a social worker waiting for Callum in a dingy bedroom, which has been arranged for him as his accommodation after he leaves his foster family. The place is filthy, his stuff has been collected inside two bin liners, and the social worker is clearly unable to fulfil his basic requests.
With a number of flashbacks and nightmarish sequences, we learn more about Callum’s natural parents. His father never appears, and his mother’s poor mental health affects both Callum’s welfare as well as his sister’s. Unstable, inappropriate and aggressive, she features repeatedly as one of the prime causes for Callum’s burning rage.
Following the eighteen year old’s journey through different episodes in his life, the audience gets to meet his girlfriend and his mates, none of whom seems to have a positive influence on him, and the harder they try, the more he rejects them. Opportunism and lack of resources depict a bleak world where a loaf of white bread causes disputes.
Chasing him as closely as the audience is a crawling young man in rags, whose grasping figure is a intimidating presence throughout the performance. Portrayed by the nimble Oz Enver, this impersonation of disease is hard to forget, even days after the performance.
Entirely composed of young care leavers with no formal training, the ensemble brought together by The Big House Theatre Company and their mentor Maggie Norris achieves superb results. With both the acting and the technical delivery reaching the highest standards, along with a remarkable contribution from the evocative sound and lighting design. In the role of Callum, Aston McAuley is a magnetic and impending presence, whose fits of rage and helpless resignation have the raw taste of a familiar experience.
Devised by the cast during a twelve-week workshop, each script staged by The Big House revolves around the topics that the participants deem the most relevant. In this case, the plot is a revisited version of the company’s debut production, re-proposed in memory of its original main protagonist.
Don’t expect frills nor happy endings in this visceral and compelling drama, but be assured that you’ll re-emerge from the subterranean bowels of Farringdon with some serious questions about the soaring failures of our modern society.
Author: Andrew Day
Director: Maggie Norris
Producer: The Big House Theatre Company
Booking Link: https://billetto.co.uk/users/the-big-house
Booking Until: 2 December 2017