Colourful, heartfelt, energetic production for Black History Month

Big Foot 'Photo Camilla Greenwell
Big Foot 'Photo Camilla Greenwell

High Rise Theatre returns to Peterborough tomorrow (and Saturday) with Big Foot, a semi-autobiographical production written by Joseph Barnes-Phillips

Dominic Garfield’s production headlines the Key Theatre stage for Black History Month, and offers a frank coming of age story told with grime music and Guayanese folk stories.

The one-man show will star Joseph Barnes-Phillips, merging comedy with tragic content to play Rayleigh, his girlfriend Spice Girl, and his Guyanese mother Moongazer, whose name is taken from African folk tradition. The title comes from the writer’s experiences of racial stereotyping, noting that, especially when wearing a hoodie, strangers tend to see a threatening, unintelligent man.

However, the show explores Rayleigh’s many hats: his status as a gang member, a churchgoer, son to a sick mother and boyfriend to a pregnant girlfriend.

The story asks what it means to become a man in the modern day, when the euphoric highs of teenage life collide with adult responsibilities. Rayleigh tries to negotiate his way through many identities, while trying to avoid making the same mistakes as his father. Speaking of creating High Rise, Joseph said: “I’ve experienced many of the themes and issues first hand, so I wanted to give a voice to anyone that has been under tremendous pressure and had to make life changing decisions, when actually you don’t want to grow up.”

Though he enjoyed exploring his Guayanese heritage in the play through music, stories and food, Joseph said: “The hardest thing has been searching through memories I thought I’d dealt with and the ones I’d buried.”

On the politics of ethnic minority theatre, he is direct: “One of my biggest issues being a BAME actor is with that very description. It highlights how we are perceived and how we are represented across the arts in Britain. I’m glad that Black Theatre Live understands this and is willing to learn and take risks.”

High Rise Theatre is a collective of artists and performers with family roots spanning five continents, who have enjoyed recent success with The Concrete Jungle Book.

Their social and political theatre uses elements of urban youth culture, such as hip hopBlack Theatre Live is a national consortium of regional theatres which has delivered acclaimed Shakespeare revisions and ‘Diary of a Hounslow Girl’, offering their sixth Peterborough production in time for October’s national celebration of black British cultures.

However, Joseph returns to the drama itself: “I just want the audience connect with it, and maybe use it as an opportunity to explore how they feel about some of the things happening in their lives.”

Summing up the event in three words, Joseph says: “Colourful, heartfelt, energetic.