Review: Phoenix Rising

5 star rating
Frank, potent and brutally heartbreaking, a tragically riveting and unmissable drama that opens a window on a world hidden from most of us.
Phoenix Rising at Smithfield Market

Rebecca Farinre, Aston McAuley - photo by Rick Findler

Theatre: Smithfield

Closes here: Saturday 2 December 2017

Andrew Day

Ed Clarke

Maggie Norris


Aston McAuley - Callum

Anthony Brown - Dr Bernard

Atlantia Sami - Shauna

Charmel Koloko - Josiah

Daniel Akilimali - Bready

Ishara Bilson-Graham - Suzanne

Jade O'Sullivan - Linda

Jay Scott - Sylvester/Denzel

Jordan Bangura - Omar

Lou Mussington - Diane

Melissa Madden - Adebola/Receptionist

Oz Enver - Disease

Perrina Allen - Nina

Rebecca Farinre - Hannah

Rebecca Oldfield - Julie

Rowan Fornah - Judge

Shakira Robertson - Lauren/Adebambo


Follows the first steps of an 18-year-old leaving care - steps that lead him straight into poverty, bad company and the constant attacks of his worst enemy: himself.

Out on the track, he is untouchable.

No-one can get near him.

But when his wings start to fail him, he will have to face his demons, to make one final flight.

'Phoenix Rising' explores this raw and bitter truth, and the hard road to a hopeful future.


Four years after the phenomenal success of their debut play 'Pheonix' - praised by critics, industry peers and audiences alike - The Big House is re-staging the play that launched them in 2013 in memory of one of the original cast members.

Now re-imagined and recast, but true to the original premise.

Note: Box office & audience meeting point:


94 Cowcross Street

Clerkenwell London


ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 16 November 2017
Review star rating image for 3 stars

Shadowy figures walk alongside and around me as the audience make their way through the brutal, concrete box that is a car park underneath Smithfield Market where this promenade production takes place.

It's disorientating and slightly unnerving.

Suddenly, we leave the gloom to gather at a lit area where a running track has been marked out and members of an athletics club seem to be warming-up for a race.

The atmosphere is cold, not in terms of temperature but in its bleakness and architectural austerity.

I'm already feeling a little grumpy as I've been made to fetch-up at a pub round the corner to wait to be led to the performance venue.

As an adult, I'm used to turning up at a theatre, collecting a ticket and, in most cases, deciding for myself when I'll enter the auditorium to see a show.

So, some of the control I'm used to exercising has been removed.

Whether that's a deliberate ploy or merely a practical necessity, it still leaves me feeling a little tetchy.

That sense, though, partially matches the feelings of the central character in the story which is about to unfold.

Callum (Aston McAuley) is 18 and making his first forays into the adult world with a home of his own, after spending considerable time in care.

It's not an easy transition to handle for either Callum or those who have nominal responsibility for his welfare - his social workers.

A keen and talented runner, Callum finds some sense of achievement and success from his athletic prowess, but all that is about to change along with the other significant changes already happening in his life.

As the lights fade on the running track, we hear voices from somewhere else inside the car park, turn to locate them and then head to the light which has now appeared in another area.

Phoenix Rising at Smithfield Market

Photo by Dylan Nolte

This is how the performance proceeds in a play that forces us to be followers, led to different scenes dotted around this underground location, including Callum's bedsit, a park, a battered old car where he meets his friends, and his former family home where his mother's mental illness is revealed as the cause of him being taken into care.

Superb, meticulous and skilfully enabling direction from Maggie Norris secures immensely authentic acting and characterisation from an obviously driven and highly talented young cast.

In the lead as Callum, Aston McAuley provides a dynamic and angrily fiery performance as a young man blighted by circumstances beyond his control and a largely hard-hearted system.

Mr McAuley is ably supported by Oz Enver who interprets the distressing, degenerative disease, which is afflicting Callum, with poignant efficiency.

And Rebecca Oldfield delivers an enormously convincing and affecting portrayal of Callum's mother whose mental illness leaves her, distressingly, regarding her son as a demon, and unable to pick up the pieces of their broken relationship when Callum seeks her out after leaving care.

The humanity of a civilised society in the twenty-first century must surely be judged by the way it helps its most vulnerable members, such as young people leaving care.

What this story shows is the overwhelming nature of the problems some of our young citizens have to face, largely on their own, and the failure of a state-run system to provide vital encouragement, sufficient support and effective remedies.

Frank and heartbreaking at times, Phoenix Rising is one of those unique plays which opens a window on a world hidden from most of us, but for which we all must bear responsibility.

Potent, tragically riveting and unmissable drama.

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