Phoenix at Hackney Downs Studios
Phoenix, the debut production from the Big House Theatre Company, opened last week for a season of innovative, promenade performances. Telling the story of 16-year-old Latitia, a troubled care leaver and exceptionally gifted runner, the play focuses on the shattered worlds of children leaving the care system and entering independent lives for the first time.
Designed with fitting minimalism by Kate Unwin, the cavernous warehouse space at the Hackney Downs Studios is split into separate sets, each depicting a different fragment of Latitia’s fractured life.The audience move in circles between the different stages, becoming physically entwined within Latitia’s life and dizzyingly aware of the traumas she faces: flash backs to her home life with her perpetually drunk and mentally ill mother, Latitia’s heated confrontations with her frustrated care worker, her crippling relationship with the jealous and possessive Mani and her riling encounters with running coach Kevin, one of the few who finds promise in her abilities.
Particularly striking are the play’s sinister nightmare sequences, choreographed by director Maggie Norris, where the traumas of Latitia’s life resurface as snarling, contorted figures that parade up and down the running track of her dreams in gruesome slow motion arrangements. The divide between care leavers and the callous institutions they face is artfully executed. “I can’t understand your language”, Latitia retorts to her care worker, alluding to the linguistic and experiential gap between the clinical, apathetic world of societal institutions and the urban, colloquial sphere of marginalised adolescents in care.
It is the ethos behind Phoenix, however, which is perhaps its most stirring feature. The Big House Theatre Company, founded this year, plays a role far beyond that of a normal theatre group. The company runs a personal and social development project for young care leavers, aiming to improve and invigorate their lives through the dramatic arts. Each member of the cast has previously been in care, and many are dealing with or have experienced learning difficulties, health issues and homelessness. Scriptwriter Andy Day wrote the play using the cast’s own words and personal stories. The result is a performance of raw, frenzied intensity with a palpable authenticity, often amiss in urban drama.
Raging with fierce vehemence, and with a glorious performance from Jasmine Jobson as Latitia, Phoenix unveils the bitter, marginalised world of a disposed youth and its grim struggle to a promising future.
Phoenix is at Hackney Downs Studios until 14th December 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.