The Realness - One Last Shot

Book by Maureen Chadwick & David Watson Music and Lyrics by Kath Gotts
The Big House Theatre Company & Big Broad Productions
Hackney Downs Studios

Serael Asphall (Ensemble) Jasmine Jobson as Marie, Veronique Andre as Shanice and Ashley Gayle as Jay Johnson Credit: Catherine Ashmore
Serael Asphall (Ensemble), Jasmine Jobson as Marie, Kyrae Petterson (Ensemble) and Dymond Allen as Leroy Credit: Catherine Ashmore
K M Boateng as Traffic Warden Credit: Catherine Ashmore
Mensah Bediako as the Pastor Credit: Catherine Ashmore

Jay Johnson is a young man in prison for breaking and entering with intent to steal a load of mobile phones. As a police helicopter roars overhead, we see him doing press-ups to keep fit in prison.

Jay isn’t really a bad guy and when he’s out he’s going straight, especially when he finds out he’s a dad and gets back together with the mother, his girlfriend Shanice. Making a new start, he wants to do the best by them but needs cash. That’s when he is tempted by an offer from club-owning gang boss and drug runner Leroy and things start to go wrong.

This isn’t a very original story but it is one that reflects the aims of Big House, working with young people coming out of care and rehabilitating offenders and ex-offenders whose experience it echoes. The performers are a mixed group of professionals and others drawn from such backgrounds, giving them a voice and helping build skills and confidence. The idea for the show came from director Maggie Norris who set up The Big House in 2013, having already spent six years working with offenders and ex-offenders. She has done a terrific job in welding her company together.

Quite apart from the social value of the work this company is doing, this is a stimulating, vibrant show that will closely connect with the people Big House is reaching out to while providing lively entertainment for everyone.

With more than a dozen numbers, often reggae and rap influenced, that express emotion and carry on the story rather than being standalone songs, this is a show buoyed up by music but it also has first-rate acting, especially from Ashley Gayle as likable lad Jay, Andrew Brown as his best mate Mikey and Veronique Andre as Shanice, with Dymond Allen showing plenty of muscle as lawbreaker Leroy.

With Mensah Bediako as a rather gullible preacher, Jacqui Dubois as Jay’s moralistic mum, Jasmine Jobson as Marie, traumatised at the killing of her baby, K M Drew Boating as a Traffic Warden who could lead a dance crew and Matthew Schmolle as a prison warder among other parts there is plenty of talent that extends through the unnamed roles with Aaron Russell Andrews, Iona Dawkins, Tyrone Nestor and Kyrae Patterson completing the company: this is so much an ensemble company that they all deserve mention.

Heavy London-West Indian accents will probably be no problem for those at whom this show is aimed, but those who don’t normally live with them may sometimes struggle, especially with the change of timbre that close head-mikes seem to produce—though it may just be the sound system needs tweaking for I found a voiceover by a guesting Lenny Henry difficult to catch properly. That doesn’t stop the story from coming over clearly, especially when delivered with so much energy.

It is played in a traverse arrangement. A strip along each side wall carries video projections that provide atmosphere and location while below them on one side is Leroy’s bar and on the other his office, while centre stage can be anywhere from street scene to airport or hotel room or Jay’s mum’s.

Songs such as the gospel-like “Me Fail, Him Fall” with Jay’s mum Adele angry at him making the same mistakes as his father, “The Mighty Ty” sung about Jay and Shanice’s little son and traffic warden Boateng’s spiky “Ticket Machine” hit the mark and choreographer Carrie-Anne Ingrouille adds some lively moves.

Director Maggie Norris, who also came up with the original idea, delivers an up-close engagement that bonds audience and cast and has released an energy in this company that would be hard to resist.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton