The Big House is a charity supporting young care leavers through theatrical work. Their freshly refurbished space in Islington is an incredibly valuable addition to London’s theatre scene.
The theatre does not house a traditional stage – the whole building is performance space and at times the audience intermingles with the actors. While there is a fourth wall, the lack of clear borders between performance and audience spaces creates an, at times, uncomfortable closeness to the events on stage. This somewhat stressful intimacy turns the viewer into a witness of things gone wrong, rather than just an observer.
Throughout the whole show the audience is kept on their feet, changing rooms every couple of minutes. But not to worry about tired feet, there are seats available in every room, however, they are not separated from the stage. On the contrary, even the design of chairs and benches in in accord with the actual set. Thus, the audience seamlessly melts into the performance space.
While the lighting, the staging, the sound and the direction were on point throughout the show, some of the dialogue felt quite recited. This did cost the text some credibility, but this was sporadic, rather than a trait running throughout the whole show. Overall, the actors performed well, and the audience got the sense that every cast member was fully engaged with their character on stage. However, it was a shame that the background stories were kept quite short. Indeed, only few characters got a background story. This may have benefitted the storytelling of the play and given the audience a more nuanced insight into the personas’ main characteristics.
Further, the story itself was very well thought through, but the storyline felt messy. There was no clear build up or climax, but rather accumulations of climaxes from the start to the finish. While this is not necessarily an issue in itself, in combination with the lack of character engagement, it made the play feel too rushed. That being said, Bullet Tongue is a two-hour performance. This could have allowed for some clearer exploration of the main characters. As it was, the audience only got to see repetitive character traits.
While quality of performance has space for improvement, it needs to be acknowledged that the cast is a rough diamond. In fact, for most of the actors, Bullet Tongue was their debut. With little to no prior experience, the group managed to devise and revise a professional play in just about three weeks. This incredibly short rehearsal period speaks for the capability of everyone involved. Overall, The Big House is a performance space worth keeping an eye on.