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Review: REDEMPTION, The Big House

Review: REDEMPTION, The Big House

Up close and highly personal, Redemption is an exciting immersive experience.

Review: REDEMPTION, The Big House A gut-punching slab of immersive theatre that takes no prisoners may be just what the doctor ordered in these interesting times. The Big House's Redemption doesn't have the most enticing of titles but this layered drama takes place in a unique environment and punches well above its weight.

Maz (Renaya Dennis) is an outspoken teenager from a broken home with an enviable ability to spit out biting rhymes at will. An ex-social worker puts her in touch with a music producer who wants to pair her with the terminally shy soul singer Tayo (Shaquille Jack). As they try to break into a music industry endemic with false prophets promising false profits, will this unlikely duo overcome their heartbreaking history or will it engulf them in more tragedy and trouble?

A former frame factory situated off a side street in the poshest borough in North London, The Big House is both a location and a charity helping those at high risk of social exclusion including those who have left the care system. There are some horrifying statistics associated with careleavers - they are four times more likely to commit suicide, one third experience homelessness within two years of leaving care and over two-fifths of those aged 19-21 are not in employment, education or training - and the project is celebrating its 10th anniversary with this updated return of a production which debuted last year.

If anything, Redemption is an echo of the film Human Traffic, a brilliant film about the Nineties music scene which chronicled real lives and real drama. This time around, instead of ecstasy and raves, we are thrown into a world of weed, "white" and grime; watching Maz as she works her way up from bright young thing to a recording artist, working in a studio and making a music video while selling cocaine on the side and coping with an unstable home with the violent Carlos.

Artistic director and Big House CEO Maggie Norris knows how to create an intensely immersive experience which ensures the audience is never more than a few feet from the action as we walk from one room to another within the building. Each new room brings with it a Punchdrunk-level of ambience and, in some cases, an enjoyable level of detail; the tomes in the library are turned backwards suggesting that this house is the last place that we should be judging a book by its cover, while having the floor covered with broken glass in a key scene is open to a number of interpretations.

James Meteyard's lyrical flow, (whether sung or spoken) set to music by The Last Skeptik, satisfyingly conveys the characters' thoughts and motivations, especially that of Tayo who convincingly comes out of his shell to reveal his own painful past and inner trauma. There's high comedy to go with the high emotion and the two blend as adeptly as the impressive Dennis and Jack. Not all of the scenes come off - the final one between Maz and her social worker lacks spark and genuine humour while seeing Maz and her mother finally coming to terms with each other is heartwarming but feels tacked-on.

Of the pair, Maz is written as the louder and funnier but it is Jack's portrayal of Tayo that lingers longest; a man living on the edge of society with little in the way of money, friends and opportunities and with a desperate need for emotional connection. Dymond Allen is superb as the mendacious producer Darnell, forever building up the hopes and dreams of musicians who have - talent aside - little to live for but hopes and dreams.

Seeing a Norris play is an enticing invite in and of itself and the excellent Redemption is as good an introduction as any to the laudable environment and project that is The Big House.

Redemption continues at The Big House until 13 August.

Photo Credit: Dan Corbett

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