No Man’s Island at The Big House
Written by James Meteyard and Jammz, No Man’s Island tells the two-decade-long story of Blaze FM, a pirate radio station that represents more than just music to the people who have strenuously fought to keep it alive: a community, family, freedom, hope and love. A small flat located in a council estate in Hackney, four walls shaken by historical events, the insistent knocking of authorities, personal secrets unravelling, and – always – the loud, majestic sound of jungle and grime: this is a safe space for those who are discriminated against, alienated, threatened to be deported and expected to fail by a society that sets them up for failure. Those who are left with nothing but rage and bitterness – and music; those who, against all odds, manage to break the cycle and carve their own paths.
A brilliant, young cast showcases a wide set of skills, not only acting, but also rapping and singing. And they’ve got moves too – one of the highlights is Hughbert’s final dance of freedom while Home Office agents are shouting and banging on his door. It makes everything that comes after even more heartbreaking.
This is a play written with heart, directed with heart, and performed with heart (and soul) – no doubt about that. However, the glue holding all the different narrative threads together is not particularly strong, which occasionally results in confusion and frustration. With most of the action (and all the crucial events) happening off-stage, to later be narrated by the characters, the story becomes told, rather than shown, which prevents the viewer from forming a deep emotional bond with the characters or fully engaging with all their different and complex situations. Many aspects are only touched upon without being fully unravelled, and there is a lot going on: almost two decades of events intertwining.
Radio is an incredibly powerful medium, and utilising it to show how history has impacted the lives of the protagonists is a clever plot device. However, considering all the time jumps, the play would have benefited from a stronger overarching structure, with Hughbert’s storyline serving as catalyst: it is hard to truly perceive the danger and peril without a gradual build-up and a deeper dive into his backstory. In a few scenes, in fact, the flame seems to fizzle just before the explosion – just as the scene is about to get to the height of the drama, there is a time jump, followed by an explanation of what happened and how it affected everyone involved.
Towards the end, one is left wanting more and less at the same time. If this was a TV show, each character would probably get at least one episode to fully do justice to each of their unique and complex tales and personalities. Despite this, No Man’s Island tells a fascinating and captivating story, touching on many timely issues including social injustice, racial profiling and the devastating effects of the recent Windrush scandal. If nothing else, all the powerful jungle and grime tunes are guaranteed to keep playing in the viewer’s head for a while – something to be grateful for.
Photo: Dylan Nolte
No Man’s Island is at The Big House from 3rd until 27th May 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.