Big House Theatre (venue)
04 November 2020 (released)
06 November 2020
Turing off the busy Essex Road and stepping through a small door into the dark cobbled courtyard of the ‘Big House,’ the drama has already begun. Especially on the last night of lockdown when new experiences are so thin on the ground and live performances must be treasured. Having ordered a drink by app, it magically appears in seconds from a smiling human and our group of six pass under the strings of lights to gather in the bar area, the epitome of recently stripped back chic.
The Big House is a stunning venue, restored for creative work with care leavers at high risk of exclusion. It’s also the perfect site for a perambulatory theatrical experience – in this case a surreal satire about the year of the ‘Rona’. Not an interactive one but an intimate one as each socially distanced group of six are passed from room to room, scene to scene. The largely young cast are confident and engaging throughout, personal experiences of the pandemic piercing the play written by David Watson and directed by with a fresh, devised feel.
It’s New Year 2020 – a family (with Victorian dress and swagger) are raising a toast to their future around a long, candle-lit dining table. The only cloud on the horizon ‘is the tickle in the back of my throat.’ The scene ends hilariously with the expectant young mum going into labour as the family call, ‘Come on little Crossrail!” before baby… Boris emerges from between her legs.
We make our way up a narrow wooden staircase for the next scene and find ourselves in a whitewashed room where piles of toilet roll indicate our socially distanced seats, the only set a tiny rocking horse, belonging to Rona the non-binary Cowboy virus (yep). Bounding with dark energy, and wielding a microphone, he serenades us with a rendition of the ballad of ‘Corona, now or never, We’re all in this together.’ It feels good to be drawn into the rhythms (music written by Watts) and good to laugh (behind our masks of course) as the all too familiar mixes with the surreal.
Charting the progress of characters who catch the virus, no issues of 2020 are left untouched with ‘black lives matter’, police violence, rising unemployment, middle class angst and the moral vacuum of advertising to name a few. There’s a rich feast of references and human experience with a healthy dose of dark comedy that reminds us that life has always been a complex business and every individual experience has value even if the world tries to distort that. This is vibrant, fringe theatre at is best and credit to cast and crew for pulling it off during a pandemic when so many theatres could not.
Photo Credit: Dylan Nolte