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Phoenix Rising review at Smithfield Car Park, London – ‘powerful promenade piece’

The Big House's Phoenix Rising at Smithfield Car Park. Photo: Rick Findler The Big House's Phoenix Rising at Smithfield Car Park. Photo: Rick Findler
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Four years ago director Maggie Norris launched the Big House, a charity using drama to work with people who had left the care system, and their first production, Phoenix, looked at the precarious lives of those who had been in care.

Recently one of the original company passed away, and Norris decided to revisit the project in his honour with a new company, a new story and an extraordinary setting: a dark concrete car park under Smithfield Market.

Writer Andrew Day has developed this promenade show with the cast, many of whom are care-leavers, shaping their words into this play. We follow Callum, taken away from his mother as a child, who has just turned 18. What he’s good at, and what he loves, is to run. But he finds that trying to stay within the lanes of state-sanctioned living is hard, especially with health problems of his own.

There’s a fierce, raw energy to the performances, particularly Aston McAuley as Callum, who shows great rage and tenderness, and careers around the huge space with tremendous energy. Rebecca Oldfield as his mum gives a really moving performance and Oz Enver embodies Callum’s debilitating disease with incredibly disturbing physicality, his half-naked skeletal body jerking and twisting, almost as if he’s break-dancing in reverse.

Despite the size of the space, Norris’ direction controls the promenading audience with absolute ease. This second iteration rails against the huge failings of a system that claims to care. It understands the deep anger of the people who went through it, being questioned and tested, tossed around from one caseworker to another, scrutinised at every turn. But it also understands the enormous goodwill of the people trying to help, and is all the more powerful for exposing that tension.

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Powerful promenade piece about the failings of the care system