The Big House was founded in 2013 and Anne Currell is currently the head of the Board of Trustees for this amazing charity. The Big House works with young care leavers, creating powerful productions about issues that the young people feel need to be aired. Most of the cast have had no formal acting training and there are no auditions. Their latest production, Bullet Tongue, looks at the issue of County Lines drug dealing, where young and vulnerable people are recruited by drug dealers and gangs to run drugs from cities into the suburbs and countryside. The production opened on 14 November to sell out evenings and rave reviews. The production has just been extended until 15 December.
We met with two members of the Bullet Tongue cast, Shonagh and Jermaine, at The Big House’s new home in Islington, to find out more.
“Big House, it’s for the young people,” says Shonagh, who plays Bumper in Bullet Tongue. “Whatever you need, they listen. Other theatres, they have great stuff for young people too, and great programmes, but here it’s just different, it’s so about the young people.” Shonagh has been with The Big House for two years and also appeared in their 2017 production, Brixton Rock. For Jermaine, who plays Julian, this is his first The Big House production. He tells me how the cast had four weeks to rehearse, a tight lead time for an ambitious promenade production like this one. Not least because they were rehearsing the production before the company had moved into their new permanent home. “We moved around a lot,” adds The Big House Engagement Manager, Sophie Becker “We were rehearsing in community centers, pubs.”
You’d never guess it. The production is slick and professional, leading the audience through multiple sets over two floors. The feeling is immersive and, at times, intense. The performances by Shonagh, Jermaine, and the rest of the cast are phenomenal, made all the more amazing by the fact many of the cast members lacked confidence when they first started at The Big House. “Some people wouldn’t even talk when they first came here,” says Shonagh. “And some people, they didn’t think they wanted to act, then they discovered this incredible talent.”
But The Big House is more than just a theatre company. What’s really on offer is a whole host of new opportunities, skills and ways to build confidence. “I first came to the drop in’s here. I did a drama workshop, then they asked if I wanted to get involved with the latest project and I just thought… ok!” says Jermaine. The Big House offers a range of classes and workshops from money management to first aid, since many young care leavers haven’t been able to learn the same life skills as their peers.
“It can be hard being a care leaver, it can be lonely,” says Shonagh “but coming here, you just feel so much better about things. And it’s not just when there’s a production on, they’re always here, it’s like a family, that’s what it’s about.”
Bullet Tongue runs at The Big House, Englefield Road, until 15 December. Book tickets HERE (while you still can)