Black Theatre Live


Budding Theatre Critic Hermione McNamara (aged 17 years) reviews Big Foot

Hermione McNamara, age 17, from the Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham, reviewed Big Foot while it was on national tour to the Black Theatre Live consortium venue partner Queen's Hall Arts in Northumberland. 

Hermione said: I’ve always loved going to the theatre and fully admire the actors as it’s something I could never do, but in recent years I never had the time with working and forgot. In 2016, I took my Gold Arts Award and as part of my volunteering began to review. I’ve since passed my Arts Award but still enjoy attending and reviewing as many shows as possible.

Big Foot is a story based around youth and the struggles of growing up in a fast paced city in modern day society. It is performed by Joseph Barnes-Phillips and he acts as three characters: Rayleigh, Moon Gazer his mother and Spice Girl.

The scene is set with the staging of heaps of plushies and soft toys scattered around, a parasol, huge alphabet blocks and deck chair littering the floor. As I was lucky enough to watch the play in Hexham, I also was able to gain an insight into the reasoning behind the staging through the Q&A We are first introduced to Moon Gazer, Rayleigh’s Guyanese mother who is larger than life and merry on stage, yet also worried for her son. The beginning of the story focuses on Rayleigh who is, in his terminally sick mother’s eyes, falling off the rails and partying all night, not being fully family oriented and no longer attending church. Rayleigh is a young carer who is struggling to mature into a young man, with no male presence to help lessen the burden of caring for his mother or guide him into adulthood other than a brightly coloured box of letters.

Gritty lifestyle on the roads

Through the use of music, the audience is guided and transported not only through various locations with Rayleigh, but also with each shift in genre we are shown a new side of Rayleigh. Through the grime music we can visualise the urban, gritty lifestyle of the roads and Joseph Barnes-Phillips called it ‘the soul’ of London and all of this is reflected through Rayleigh’s behaviour with friends and when he first meets Spice Girl. Spice Girl becomes a turning point for Rayleigh. Through Spice Girl and Rayleigh’s interactions the audience is shown his eagerness to build a family and treasure her as he falls in love. The music, as well as adding ambience and atmosphere to each scene, also created this realism as the music was loud, paired with heavy beats that sometimes led to not actually being able to hear what was being said. Although this was cleared up by director Dominic Garfield as an error due to the play being fine-tuned for Stratford Circus which is much more intimate and so the Joseph would have been heard easier. However, although it was a struggle at times to understand what was being said, I enjoyed this element, thinking it was done purposefully to imitate reality of being outside a club or in a crowd outside church where you can’t always understand everything.

This also added a further element of making the audience actually work to understand the gist of what was being said or concentrate hard to pick up the missing words which created an interaction of sorts. The audience was no longer passive but thinking and physically involving themselves to stay with the plot. This was furthered by the frequent fourth wall break between Rayleigh and the audience for reading a letter for him and also choosing a baby name. This gave the play an inclusivity, with each play being unique and although slightly stilted, it gave the play a sense of real genuineness as it wasn’t rehearsed and as HighRise Theatre took a risk by depending on audience contribution.

The multiplicity of Rayleigh’s character breaks down the stereotypes that are forced onto many black men in the media today, and also the bravado that many men hide behind when scary and worrying events happen to us in our daily lives, really grounding the audience into the reality of a young boy who is just trying to grow up and do what is right, not making the same mistakes as his father had when faced with adult and poignant issues.

Independent and fiery

Although the play is male heavy and mostly seen through the eyes of Rayleigh, there are two strong female characters that are extremely well developed as characters. Spice Girl is independent and fiery but this allows Rayleigh to show his soft side, and yet there is a wonderful equilibrium between them to listen to each other and stay by each other even when it gets tough. This shows the huge growth that Rayleigh has from a boy who didn’t want to be responsible to a man who would sacrifice anything to keep his family safe.

As the play deals with very heavy, deep and intense topics, they paired it with a light mood and lots of humour such as Rayleigh professing his love and commitment to a pink fluffy toy, or Moon Gazer dancing away when the audience first arrives, even dancing with some of the audience.

An important and necessary message

This is an incredible piece of writing that allows any gender, age group and someone from any background resonate with this. As someone from Hexham, I was immersed in colloquialisms and references that I didn’t fully understand, and yet I loved it. I felt that I had been plunged in head first and was living out their feelings with the characters, completely enveloped and welcomed into the culture. It wasn’t threatening but instead inviting as we were shown a more innocent side of London youth compared to what is broadcasted and publicised.

HighRise knew this was an important and necessary message to provide to our nation, if not the world, and with 90% of the story being based on truth, it is emotive and more than anything honest. However, they didn’t want to burden the audiences and have found a phenomenal way to make you laugh and cry whilst learning about what it takes to no longer be a boy, but a man.

by Hermione McNamara.

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