Phoenix Rising isn’t your average play. Written by Andrew Day and directed by Magggie Norris, it takes place in an underground car park beneath Smithfield meat market and uses the whole area to tell its story. The play follows the life of Callum (Aston McAuley), an 18-year-old youth who has just left ‘care’ and ambling unsteadily into adulthood. His physical prowess, however, is a different matter, as he competes in meets at his local athletics club. Only trouble is his anger get the better of him at times, which stems from a lot of experiences that are hinted at throughout the play. By the time Phoenix Rising reaches its conclusion, you’ll be wondering why he wasn’t more angry.
Bereft (at least initially) of any ‘real’ family, Callum often receives regular visits from Omar (Jordan Bangura) and Bready (Daniel Akilimali). As close as they are, even they have to admit that the accomodation that the State has provided is barely fit for human habitation and find the visits from social workers almost as irritating as Callum does. For Callum, the only reason why he puts with the ever-changing number of social workers is to hear news about his missing sister Linda (Jade O’Sullivan).
While the play is very much about Callum’s experiences pre- and post-care, other people on the fringes of society feature prominently such as Hannah (Rebecca Farinre). As one of Callum’s neighbours and a young single mother, it’s obvious Hannah has post-natal depression and doesn’t have any support network – either from friends/family or from the State. Seeing her, Callum is reminded of his own childhood when his mother Julie (Rebecca Oldfield) had her own mental health problems, often denying that Callum was her own son. Linda’s decision to leave home without her younger brother has long-term ramifications: her mother being sectioned and Callum taken into care. Only a being reunited with his family holds any hope of closure from the past…
With all that’s gone in his life, it’s not surprising Callum finds trusting others hard to do – or at least finding someone who doesn’t let him down in the long-run or have an ulterior motive. Cue Josiah (Charmel Koloko). An athletics trainer who used to be in care himself, Josiah sees a lot of potential in Callum’s running ability. But life has a way of scuppering even the most well-intentioned goals and it isn’t other people that ‘betrays’, but Callum’s own body…
Behind this production, The Big House Theatre Company exists to enable young people in care reach their potential. Their words and experiences permeate all aspects of the play and lends to the production an authenticity that can’t be fabricated. Even though I’ve seen in my fair share of promendade productions, I have to admit that I didn’t at first know quite what to expect with this show. However, that uncertainty soon disappeared. The talent and work that’s gone into this production elevates the concept and proves that theatre in the community has never been more vital or necessary.
© Michael Davis 2017
Phoenix Rising runs at the underground car park beneath Smithfield meat market until 2nd December.
CAST: Aston McAuley – Callum
Anthony Brown – Dr Bernard
Atlantia Sami – Shauna
Charmel Koloko – Josiah
Daniel Akilimali – Bready
Ishara Bilson-Graham – Suzanne
Jade O’Sullivan – Linda
Jay Scott – Sylvester/Denzel
Jordan Bangura – Omar
Lou Mussington – Diane
Melissa Madden – Adebola/Receptionist
Oz Enver – Disease
Perrina Allen – Nina
Rebecca Farinre – Hannah
Rebecca Oldfield – Julie
Rowan Fornah – Judge
Shakira Robertson – Lauren/Adebambo