Writer: James Meteyard
Music: The Last Skeptik
Director: Maggie Norris
Redemption is an extraordinary new work, a play-with-music devised by director Maggie Norris as a site-specific show for The Big House, with text and lyrics by James Meteyard and music by The Last Skeptik. The Big House works with young people at high risk of social exclusion and provides a platform for their undiscovered, raw talent. The venue really is a big, rambling house and in this thrilling production, audience members are taken up and down stairs to various rooms in which scenes are enacted. Set designer Zoë Hurwitz transforms these spaces into everything from a recording studio, to a basement club, and various bleak carparks and bridges. Video design by Daniel Denton is superb – there’s a real thrill of being in a supposed closed studio for a video shoot.
Maz, played with extraordinary poise by Renaya Dennis, is a young woman forever running away from care. She is a tightly coiled ball of energy. delivering her fierce rap with furious intensity. When the show opens, she is sneered at by a group of cocky young male rappers, all confidently boasting about their bars. Their manager has invited a fixer, Darnell, fresh from LA, all sunglasses and bling, to work with them. They are promised record deals and stardom. One lad sits apart, the quiet Tayo (Shaquille Jack). But when he sings, he is obviously the real star. He has a movingly beautiful voice, and a real presence when he performs.
Maz’s hard shell is pierced by his song Frozen Lake, but her heart will take a long time to melt. Sent alone from Nigeria as a boy, Tayo has struggled to survive; friendless, his only outlet is song-writing. Maz’s aggression also stems from a dysfunctional upbringing: her mother was an alcoholic; her beloved brother killed himself at 16. It’s unsurprising that the care system now finds her behaviour challenging.
It is Tayo who believes Maz has a voice – not that of a rapper, but a hidden lyrical voice that he coaxes out of her. She tentatively shares with him the only song her brother wrote. One extraordinary scene takes place in a cosy projection room in an art house cinema, where they sneak in with the collusion of exuberant cleaner, Patricia (Tajah Workman-Jeffrey). Tentatively the pair swap personal stories and songs. But when Maz assumes Tayo wants sex, she can’t understand this shy boy’s reluctance. It’s a brilliant piece of characterisation, reminding us how damaged these young people are, unable to trust, quick to reject.
There are perhaps too many plot lines that need tying up, and the final half hour of this 145 minute show loses momentum in an uneasy mix of melodrama, comedy and well-meaning preaching. The message about the possibility of redemption is undoubtedly an uplifting one, but we don’t need it spelled out. The show itself has demonstrated persuasively that even the most damaged of lives can be turned around, that there are people out there you can turn to for support.
Runs until 11 December 2021