Review: Big Foot at Stratford Circus
I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about everything that’s wrong with theatre, so it’s with a sigh of genuine relief that last night I saw something that’s everything that’s right about it.
The latest production from the innovative mandem behind theatre collective Highrise (in collab with Black Theatre Live) is Big Foot, and it’s beautiful. Previewing this week at Stratford Circus before moving onto a National tour, it’s a touching and refreshing one man show which follows anime-obsessed and forever horny Rayleigh as he navigates the steep learning curve towards manhood. This isn’t your average tale of masculinity though; Rayleigh isn’t just any man, he’s a roadman. This cliche free portrayal of what it means to be a young man in London sets a new benchmark for what contemporary theatre can and should look like while reconfiguring the narrative of one of the most misrepresented sections of society: the roads.
Where other depictions of stories set on ‘the streets’ behold an unnecessary commitment to being ‘gritty’ or ‘edgy’ (think graffiti walls and fake brick work) the set of Big Foot freshens up the norm entirely. I’ve never been happier to see a mountain of cuddly toys in my life! The drama is 100% character driven and, for a play about masculinity, the female characters are beautifully well drawn and vital in every way. Joseph Barnes-Phillips writes with emotive, close-to-home clarity about longing, fatherhood, and love while Dominic Garfield directs with a progressive and blatant penchant for risk. Garfield is to Barnes-Phillips what Chase is to Status and I’m living for it.
There are laughs - lots of them - but other moments are simply heart stopping; as a performer Barnes-Phillips transforms the energy in the room the way a good DJ drops an unexpectedly hard beat on an unsuspecting audience. And when the beat did drop, I went somewhere else in my mind. I heard all the men I’ve ever known trying to articulate themselves and it was painful and perfect. For a theatre company to be able to make a story which is as much about one Guyanese boy who lives with his mum as it is about every single one of us is an astonishing achievement and vitally political.
The soundtrack of Big Foot is punctuated by the most politicised genre of recent years: Grime. Last year Grime4Corbyn was formed and instantly became a key force in securing 72% voter turnout from young people. Artists have the power to represent new stories in order to achieve new outcomes - in this instance - the power to break the rhetoric around young black masculinity to talk about something other than crime and violence. What Grime4Corbyn proved more than anything is that while our young people - people like Rayleigh - are hurting and disaffected they’re also striving for something new, better.
What’s most important about Big Foot is that it’s touring. In London, with its London slang, it hits the mark every time. In the regional theatres of Brexit Britain it faces a different challenge. The collective has to conjure familiarity in a totally different landscape, encouraging new empathies which might turn into differently used votes. And for the pockets of minorities living in these areas that do see themselves in the specifics of Rayleighs story, it will remind them that they are seen, heard and present in our hearts no matter how far away the London bubble might seem.
If anyone can do it, Highhrise can.
I’ll be sending radical vibes from London to every off ends tour spot they go to.
Good luck boys x
Photo credit: Camilla Greenwell