The Big Life

As I begin to write this review, I am searching for Tameka Empson in the cast list. However, she does not appear there as she features later as the Writer and book. I admire and am also envious of such creative and talented people.

As the lights fall, Empson in the role of Mrs Aphrodite takes her seat in one of the boxes. She is portraying that stereotypical mother in the theatre we all know and love. This part is not a narration but more serves as an interlude, in a similar way to Statler and Waldorf in the Muppets. Mrs. Aphrodite has the audience in laughter straight from the offset all the way through as she pops up here and there during scene changes too. For a play about the young people of the Windrush Generation, there are bound to be some hard-hitting moments. These were handled with a degree of honesty and truth that may well bring a tear to your eye, right before you find yourself creasing with laughter at some of the antics on stage.

Having seen this cast, I find it hard to imagine anyone else in these roles. Khalid Daley in the role of Dennis is phenomenal; to stand out as the comic relief in an already funny show is nothing short of a miracle. Daley uses physical comedy, dancing, and timing so well I would recommend the show purely for his performance. Equally, all the guys in the production have clear roles to play, but the best action happens when they are all on stage together. With inspiration from Love Labours Lost, we move to the girls. The beauty of this play is that each role has such a clear character, and each character has an amazing solo. There was clapping and cheering throughout, sometimes halfway through a note sustained so long it was unbelievable.

Becky Livermore as Costume Supervisor got it just right. I love the fashion of it, and the hats. Each couple had their own key colour, which was a nice but simple touch, making the stage not look overly busy.

Going to see this, I thought it might have a heavy race narrative, and when I think of Ska music, my mind goes to more modern interpretations. Instead, if anything, we have a battle of the sexes which had some very vocal reactions from the audience, with the beautiful Ska as it was, though I dare say a few more modern steps in the choreography. I am calling this the British Guys and Dolls; it oozes personality, charm, and has a positive message of being true to yourself.

Having touched on the music, I will say Liam Godwin as Associate Musical Director/Keys 2 was a great choice. The band is on a raised mezzanine on stage and is visible most of the time. I love it when the band is involved like this. The music lifts the heart and has the audience singing in the interval.

Ingrid Mackinnon as the choreographer is just amazing. The dancing looks so natural. Mackinnon must have worked with all the performers for so long to find what best fits them, that or like some of the characters in the show she is not willing to drop her standards, and had them training dusk till dawn. That said, there is a hysterical moment where Danny Bailey as Admiral is teaching the boys to sing and dance; it's just genius. With smiles as contagious as the music I will be recommending this to everyone an easy five stars.

This show was reviewed on the 22nd February 2024 at Stratford East Theatre where it runs until the 30th March 2024.  Tickets available here: The Big Life (stratfordeast.com)

Review written by Valentine Gale-Sides

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Photo credit: Mark Senior

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