Challenging but funny, Big Foot carries big responsibilities

Dipping a slice of roti into a bit of curry, the audience enters one of the two theatre spaces at the Stratford Circus Arts Centre. A dancing Moon Gazer (Joseph Barnes Phillips) welcomes them. He/she is dressed very colourfully and she dances at the rhythm of a Trinidadian music as they take their seats.

A couple of questions here and there to the public, laughter and the curry in the cups is finished. The lights go down, and Moon Gazer slowly suspends her fluid movements to tell a tale, of Sensible Bill and Stupidity Bill and the latter’s questioning on love.

Big Foot easily and immediately engages. This original new script is intended to touch a chord many will find familiar: those butterflies in the stomach, the impulse of doing everything and to be everywhere now and together, the feeling of the head flying.

What may be less common, though, are the familiar and social factors pushing for tough decisions to be made once the relationship goes further.

Rayleigh is a South London teenager, with all the feelings and dreams of a young boy of his age. Due to a terminal illness, his mother, Moon Gazer, requires a lot of attention. As a loving son, he takes care of his mother, he comes home early to assist her in everything she needs. The turning point comes when Rayleigh meets another woman on a night out. Spice Girl enters his life, bringing a heavy dose of love, revolutionising the way Rayleigh sees his future, but also weighs his past. As the situation slips through the youngsters’ fingers, the strange alchemy between son and mother is also questioned.

From beginning to end, HighRise theatre creates an enjoyable atmosphere - splashes of colours, recalling Central-South American costumes, brighten up the set. Food, distributed at the entrance brings a sense of familiarity that makes the audience feel like they are really sitting in Moon Gazer’s kitchen, from the curry to the fine metaphor between love and coffee.

The set is covered with toys. They are everywhere: as decoration to the costumes and as the only props needed on the scene, helping to tell the story of a missed father or an embarrassing lunch together at home.

Robin Hood hints keep on appearing, whether in a green hat with red feather, or in words. ‘Protection’ and its derivatives is a term Rayleigh drops from time to time.

HighRise Theatre has found a way to talk about tough topics

Big Foot could have ended up as a rather common story about problematic fatherhood from the perspective of a fatherless child. What the company manages to create, instead, is far greater.

There is a big question mark hovering over the identity of the protagonist. As big as the feet Rayleigh now finds himself walking with, they are made made of responsibilities and of acknowledgment of the path he has walked.

Children - girls especially - try out their parents’ shoes quite often, as if a pair of heels would make them immediately women. Here the protagonist, as all teenagers, is simply trying to find his way in the middle of a rollercoaster of emotions and duties. Trying to find the right shoes for his feet.

In this age of the limitless, where sons are deemed to break the bonds with home, the old, the past, the play poses the opposite question: how far and strong are the parents allowed to stretch the threads that connect them with their children? How wide should the safety net be cast? When the son is actually not leaving because of some sort of moral duty to fulfil, how should his mother prompt him to to jump, without risking his and her safety?

Big Foot is a play where misconceptions or assumptions are challenged.

With a witty and funny script, HighRise Theatre has found a way to talk about tough topics, such as responsibility and youth, in a moving but also entertaining tone. Joseph Barnes Phillips shone as he impersonate all the characters on the scene. Wearing several hats simultaneously, he succeeds with unbeatable energy.

But the work of this theatre collective doesn't end on the stage. With nationwide workshops and ongoing collaboration with communities and charities, HighRise goes deep into the issues, listening to the often unheard voices of the young, and bringing to life, so, their stories.

HighRise have a mission to produce informed and enjoyable scripts, powerful performances but, most importantly, ones capable of starting conversation. Big Foot, in particular, has been created as the sixth production for the pioneering consortium Black Theatre Live. The association aims to effect BAME touring theatre through a 3 year programme.

Although completely relatable to all the diverse communities in the UK, the story of Rayleigh is very much rooted in his identity, thus his black origins. What the laughs, the toys, the fresh narrative of the play point to, though, is the rich cultural treasure needed to be shared, rather than isolated.

Big Foot, written and performed by Joseph Barnes Phillips, will be touring the UK from 1st October – 10th November 2017.

Cristiana Ferrauti

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