Stratford Circus Arts Centre
Reviewed – 5th October 2017
“Big Foot is a true passion project, breathing new life into theatre…”
Big Foot, and tiny little heart strings, danced its way through elation to grave sadness, whilst maintaining poise, humour and a genuine rapport with the audience. Joseph Barnes Phillips delivers a vibrant, vital and deftly silly performance. Journeying through the fluctuating thoughts and feelings of youth, exploring the importance and difficulty of maintaining your heritage in a relentlessly upgrading world, Big Foot was never heavy-handed, always handling its subject matters with care. Intensified by the fantastic work of the creative team – particular commendation must go to Andy Grange, whose lighting design is second to none – it is clear that Big Foot is a true passion project, breathing new life into theatre and its audiences.
Big Foot is teeming with different dialects, but the mass of tongues never became tangled within Joseph’s single body. The audience was invited to have curry on the way into the auditorium, and a later reference to his mum’s jollof, exchanged for a packet of Walkers crisps, humorously juxtaposed the specificity of origin with globalisation. Thanks to the slick direction of Dominic Garfield, and the authenticity of Joseph Barnes Phillips’ script, the voices of Joseph’s mother, girlfriend and the various fleeting supporting characters blended together in harmony, to create a true storytelling experience. Often beautiful spoken word, street slang, hip-hop, prayer and grime music formed a polyphonic symphony.
Although Big Foot deals with emotionally raw material, its most refreshing virtue was that it did not take itself too seriously. Occasionally, this meant it seemed a little too on the spot. One instance in particular, when Joseph disappeared behind a screen which he manoeuvred, only to reappear and stand on a letter block to dance freestyle, disrupted the flow of the action too much, and came across as a little self-indulgent. But for the most part, the shift from comic to tragic was spine-tingling. From answering a toy phone in his pocket, to taking his mum’s blood pressure, the changes in tone were elegant and mature.
Nik Corrall’s striking set of stuffed toys, scaffolding, a mannequin, strings of lights and a parasol was a treat to behold. Transporting the audience from a hospital, to a park at dark, to a nightclub, Max Pappenheim’s sound design bounced around the space in a constantly dynamic way to highly original effect. Andy Grange’s lights were the perfect combination of subtle and daring, marking changes of character and supporting the energy of the booming grime. The set, lights and sound amplified the quality of the production up to a creatively formidable piece of theatre.
Joseph established a rapport with the audience from the get-go, so the piece’s ending, involving direct audience participation, which built to a moving final note, was not at all gratuitous. Beginning and ending dressed as his mother, Big Foot encapsulated the turmoil of young grief in a joyful celebration of life. Vivacious, cool; and verging on brilliant.
Reviewed by Eloïse Poulton
Photography by Camilla Greenwell
is at Stratford Circus Arts Centre until 7th October