Phoenix Rising

Andy Day

The Big House

Smithfield Car Park

From 08 November 2017 to 02 December 2017

Review by Howard Loxton

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This promenade performance is staged in the car park underneath Smithfield Meat Market by a company that works with youngsters leaving care and at risk.

Directed by founder Maggie Norris, it is a restaging of the first 2013 production in memory of one of its cast members, Dwayne Kieran Nero, a victim of multiple sclerosis who died earlier this year. The writing is influenced by his experience and the input of cast members, many of whom have themselves been in care.

It begins with a group of teenage runners at practice. Callum, 18-year-old and just out of care, joins them and discovers something he is good at, a potential champion. It follows his struggle to survive and the problems that he and many like him have to face. On the track, the runners’ lanes are all equal; on a circuit, the runners are staggered to equalize distances, but life isn’t like that.

Day’s script presents things leaving spectators to make their own conclusions. It’s observant writing, not ramming points home and sometimes very subtly making points, such as how Callum with his own room buys a loaf of bread when his homeless mates buy ready-made sandwiches. Is that because they lack facilities or are they just lazy?

When a boy, Callum was taken away from his addicted and mentally unstable mother and put into care. Now he’s been placed in substandard accommodation, his neighbours and acquaintances often homeless, some of them substance abusers.

He wants to reconnect with his family to try to understand what happened. He is no angel. He takes up training with a coach who has to accept Callum on his own terms. The succession of social workers assigned him have a tough time: with no continuity progress on both sides is stymied. But running seems his salvation until is own body lets him down.

Aston McAuley matches a sensitive performance as frustrated and often angry Callum with an ability to rapidly relocate to another part of the car park in a promenade where lighting marks each new location. He can as fluently move from fury to poetry when he is in a place where he can feel relaxed and happy.

His new girlfriend Nina (Perrina Allen) doesn’t get that. She even turns on running coach Josiah (Charmel Koloko), who is trying to help Callum, labelling him Batty Boy. But Callum is making a new connection with the single mother upstairs (Rebecca Farinre) whose baby’s crying annoys him. Despite his own problems, he seems to be her salvation. His own mum, who in her madness rejected him, as something evil, seems to be slowly responding to treatment. Her extreme moods and irresponsibility dramatically captured by Rebecca Oldfield.

Some of the sequences in this two-hour drama represent what is in Callum’s mind: the people and problems that disturb him and an angle-limbed crawling monster that at first I thought represented drug addiction but, as the story unfolded, realised was a graphic presentation of the disease that was disabling Callum even as he learned how to deal with other things. This disturbing apparition is brilliantly performed by Oz Evner who shares responsibility for the movement choreography with Maggie Morris.

Dwayne Kieran Nero, whom this production honours, lost his fight against MS, as will Callum eventually, but meanwhile he is gaining the self-worth that was perhaps his biggest problem. By sharing some of his frustration and anger the audience may also gain a better understanding of what such people go through.

Tickets can be booked online.