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BWW Review: PHOENIX RISING, Smithfield Car Park

BWW Review: PHOENIX RISING, Smithfield Car ParkBWW Review: PHOENIX RISING, Smithfield Car ParkEighteen-year-old Callum is taking his first steps out of care, dreaming of becoming a track star. He is immediately flung into a world of poverty and toxic company, and when his legs start to fail him, he loses the only control he has on his life.

Phoenix Rising is a thought-provoking and meticulously structured piece of theatre; it avoids clichés and stays far away from trying to provoke pity. Maggie Norris succeeds in presenting an unfortunate story for what it is, showing instead of telling the audience why certain outcomes are reached, and hinting at what could be done to avoid them.

The energetic company are impressive considering that this is their first time acting in a professional production. Aston McAuley's portrayal is heartbreaking in its honesty: when helplessness takes over the carefree and sometimes cocky attitude of the young man, he crumbles physically as well as mentally, and his nightmares become even more haunting than they previously were.

He is impulsive and raging when it comes to his inability to change his situation, but he's also not privy to self-pity. He is the result of a family and a system that abandoned him, and he is well aware of it. "I am a virus", "I am a problem because I exist", he muses to a succession of mainly disinterested social workers.

His real personality hides in the relationships with his peers, rather than the adults who have always neglected and let him down. In his exchanges with the former, he shows glimpses of the caring and attentive Callum he would have been if circumstances had been different.

Norris' direction is strong and focused, using the massive makeshift stage - an underground car park - with ease. She has the crowd following the story around, chasing after the actors and sometimes dodging them in an astonishing choreography of bodies and space.

However innovative, engaging, and ambitious in its simplicity, this aspect of the show might be an issue for the slower and wheelchair-user members of the audience, who may find themselves at a disadvantage.

Nevertheless, it's an impressive achievement for The Big House. Developed among the company with the help of Andrew Day, Phoenix Rising is another step towards shining a light on critical issues for the younger generations. Produced as a tribute to a member of The Big House who recently lost his life to MS, it's also a crucial piece that vividly portrays the disease's danger.

Shown as a haunting figure who mocks and follows the central character around, the illness is played by Oz Enver, who does some spectacularly chilling movement work. Multiple Sclerosis becomes a visual threat to the boy, tormenting him in his dreams as well as in real life, adding to the lines of his enemies.

"I'm gonna give you a reason to live," muses Callum towards the end of the show. Even though the world has been against him since the beginning, it hasn't defeated him yet. The company doesn't sugarcoat the roughness and horror that youngsters have to experience on a day-to-day basis, but subtly elbows the mainly privileged audience, suggesting that there is a system that needs to be rewritten.

Callum's story of neglect and powerlessness could surely make a difference on more than one level: to the company, this is the chance to fulfil a potential that could have gone lost; to the audience, it's the chance to reflect and take action.

Phoenix Rising runs at Smithfield Car Park until 2 December.

Photo credit: Ben Millar Cole

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From This Author Cindy Marcolina