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Review of Phoenix Rising – 5 Stars


Phoenix Rising

Smithfield Car Park

Reviewed – 14th November 2017


“refreshing to see resilience portrayed, rather than just ‘victim to the system'”


Callum has been in foster care for a long time. He is now 18 and is getting his own place. Callum’s journey through ‘the system’ and his battle with his demons are the focus of this innovative piece of writing. But the audience’s journey starts before the lights go up, upstairs in The Hope pub, where we meet to be taken through Smithfield Market to an underground car park where this impactful, site specific performance is to take place.


An underground car park is an unlikely stage, but the bare urban setting and harsh nature of concrete set the tone of the play, and the audience know they are in for something special. Being moved around the excellently utilised car park and following the actors from scene to scene as Callum explores his past, future and present is disorientating for the audience, reflective of Callum’s experience of being in care and trying to seek support.

The set and props (Emma Bailey) were minimal yet effective, with most of the scenes enhanced with clever lighting (Zoe Spurr) and excellent character portrayal. Shadows were used particularly well with the character in Callum’s head; this grotesque form, with its jerking movements and limbs at odd angles, was made even more uncomfortable to watch as the light made the eerie shadow cast down on us.

The acting was generally very strong and there was great sustained energy from Callum (Aston McAuley) throughout. He was relatable and the audience felt connected to his story. I found Rebecca Oldfield’s portrayal of Callum’s mother particularly powerful. Depicting extreme mental illness in the form of insanity, is often a difficult subject matter and here the actor was not afraid; it was not over or under done and felt very believable.

The writing (Andrew Day) was accurate and exacting, and knowing the cast of Big House Theatre all have direct experience of the care system, made this piece even more phenomenal. Phoenix Rising is the reimagined and reworked version of Big House’s critically acclaimed debut play ‘Phoenix’ from 2013. It is staged in memory of one of the original cast members.

The comedy dotted throughout felt important and provided moments of relief in the story line. Callum’s character wasn’t all doom and gloom, he made friends and was able to see the funnier side of life at points. These humorous elements were much needed to prevent the script from remaining continually bleak, in light of the context. It was refreshing to see resilience portrayed, rather than just ‘victim to the system’; an easy trap given the subject matter.

This was a brave and honest piece of storytelling from a young cast, which took the audience out of their comfort zones. There were no pretences in this piece of work and the raw, edgy performances in this urban setting have created an experience that will stay with me for quite some time.


Reviewed by Lucy Marsh

Photography by Dylan Nolte


The Big House



is at Smithfield Car Park until 2nd December



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