The average London theatre-goer has probably never spent any time in a cramped prison cell, at gunpoint in a drug den, or facing the harsh realities of life on the street. That’s what’s so remarkable about The Big House Theatre Company’s promenade production of Bullet Tongue Reloaded, directed by Maggie Norris, which places us right in the heart of this “hidden London”, the London which exists in parallel to the city we all know.
The production returns after a successful run in 2018, though as the title suggests this latest outing has been reworked. Not least because the cast has changed, and just as with previous work from this company, the cast are comprised of young care leavers, and their own histories and experiences are woven in to the story, written by Sonya Hale and Andrew Day. For the audience it can be a traumatic watch, but even more so when you stop to remember the actors have experienced this life first hand.
The story follows Bumper, with her mother dead and brother in prison, she has only her gang to call family. Her estranged step father hooks her up with a journalist who’s looking to expose the world of gangs, and in particular ‘County Lines’ – where young people take drugs out of the city to sell in smaller towns.
Things go wrong when a gang boss known as One Ton (Andrew Brown) ‘gives’ Bumper a gun, to support a new operation in Eastbourne, only to demand £5,000 in return. There are many subplots which all feed in to the main narrative, and it doesn’t take long for you as an audience member to become invested in the outcome. We move through the building, visiting each scene, where music and video design combine to create a hugely atmospheric staging.
Bullet Tongue Reloaded very cleverly explains the situation these young people find themselves in. It never tries to excuse or resolve the situation, it simply presents it how it really is, bringing in issues with money, family and press misrepresentation. It also demonstrates the pure business acumen required to pull off this kind of lifestyle, and leaves the audience wondering just how much difference there is between a drug dealer and a high-flying professional.
The cast really do give an exceptional performance throughout, at two hours and located over multiple rooms it cannot be an easy show to execute, but the passion and intensity with which they perform is astounding. With such loud characters occupying most scenes, Jesse Lihau’s very considered performance as Hawk may slip under the radar, but will stay with you long after the show ends. Tyrone McLeod’s Marlon and Teslim Oyegbade’s Nico also strike a chord with the audience.
Phoebe Rain as Tirella gives a heartbreaking portrayal of a young girl raped multiple times, the despair etched on to her face is agonising. Leading the cast as Bumper, Shonagh Marie’s tour de force performance would not be out of place on a West End stage, brimming with raw emotion her portrayal of Bumper is enthralling, especially in the final scene.
When it comes to a promenade performance like Bullet Tongue Reloaded, you can’t expect a comfy seat in an auditorium, but what you can expect is to be taken in to an unfamiliar and daunting place, both physically and mentally, and to find yourself overwhelmingly impressed with the cast and creatives who have chosen to share their lives with us.
Bullet Tongue Reloaded is at The Big House until 15th June 2019.