Home » London Theatre Reviews » MISSION by David Watson at The Big House | Review

MISSION by David Watson at The Big House | Review

There’s a surrealness to Mission that the production’s own script readily acknowledges, with more than one character admitting, separately, that they have no idea what was going on. It’s somewhat reassuring in a play that plunges straight in, with a man who only later calls himself Ray (Mensah Bediako) – no character names are given in the show’s programme – almost immediately wanting to know if Akayah Francis (Nkechi Simms), who is completely unafraid when it comes to revealing her identity, has anything in the way of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) qualifications.

Mission at The Big House - Photo by Dan Corbett.
Mission at The Big House – Photo by Dan Corbett.

It seemed to be a way of highlighting how irrelevant formal education can appear at face value to youngsters who are facing the kind of challenges that others who are in stable family environments simply don’t have. For Akayah, the need to eat and pay bills is met by the employment of what the musical The Life calls ‘the oldest profession’, and it’s not something she wants to continue. Enter Ray, not so much with an offer she can’t refuse, but rather one that she feels she might as well indulge in, given she hasn’t much to lose.

It eventually becomes clear that Akayah was in the care system: a scene in her former care home, which she revisits ostensibly to collect her belongings, paints a chaotic picture. “It’s bedlam, innit, literally,” one of the staff members wryly notes, while one of the youngsters likens the situation to “crowd control”. Much of the show’s action takes place within a translucent house-like structure, such that the audience can only see people on stage in a blurry manner. This becomes representative of the rather blurry narrative, in which Akayah is told on multiple occasions that she doesn’t exist. I wanted to know why on earth these people were talking to an apparent non-entity: if she doesn’t exist, how is it that they know she is (not) there?

I jest, of course: the show is asserting that the class structure still exists in society at large, and the likes of Akayah have views and opinions which are perfectly valid but are not taken seriously. The translucent cube also reduces the available stage space, inasmuch as the eighteen-strong cast are constrained by its boundaries: seeing them take their bows at the curtain call without knocking into one another was quite an achievement. I wondered if the cube would disappear at some point, but it stoically remained to the end, creating a distancing effect between cast and audience that didn’t seem necessary in such an intimate venue.

At least it served a good purpose in providing video projections, some of which, because of the direction the narrative takes, are out of this world both literally and figuratively. The story suggests it is better to have tried and failed than not to have bothered at all. ‘Ray’, nicknamed ‘Three-piece’ by Akayah, on account of him routinely dressing in a sharp suit, tries to pull Akayah away from friends she associated with previously, though interestingly – and realistically – the show highlights that it isn’t feasible to simply leave the past behind completely.

If the characters are flawed, they are also human, and therefore relatable. Between them, they represent the very cosmopolitan nature of London’s population, with accents from various parts of the world. Moments of hilarity add an extra layer of engagement to what can be a harrowing plotline, and the largely young cast demonstrate considerable commitment to their characters. A challenging and thoughtful piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

“You can become a part of it. A part of the world. You can take your place.
But you need to come with me.
Will you come with me?
We’ve to go on a journey.”
Akayah Francis thinks she’s dreaming when a man comes to see her with a strange
proposition. A chance to reach the stars. To break the cycle. Is this the trip of a lifetime, or
just a bad trip?
Meanwhile, a father walks out on his family.
Meanwhile, a child looks to the stars.
And, on the 259 to Edmonton Green, someone slowly slips away.
A play about making amends, and trying to make the journey to a whole new world.

Writer: David Watson
Director: Maggie Norris
Designer: Ingrid Hu
Lighting Design: Ryan Day
Video Design: Ben Bull and Tyler Forward for BIG TELE
Sound Design: Beth Duke
Production Manager: Sean Laing

CAST
Nkechi Simms – Akayah
Mensah Bediako – The Man (Mr Francis)

The Big House presents:
MISSION
Wednesday 11th May – Saturday 4th June
The Big House, 151 Englefield Road, London, N1 3LH
https://thebighouse.uk.com/

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