In the heart of Hackney, a group of lively individuals gather to find their voice. Transmitting from the hidden gem – a ramshackle council estate flat – with electricity straight from the grid, Blaze FM keeps the spirits of a community alive and assures that everyone gets their say, no matter which background they are from. The audience gets to join the Blaze FM bunch in their snug radio station, huddled in a U-shape around a mixing desk which is intermittently used for broadcasting news and views.
No Man’s Island is musician and writer Jammz’s newest gig theatre creation performed at The Big House Theatre’s main space. Making its way hand over hand along a rope that is poignant historic events in 2000s London, the show, which was co-written with James Meteyard, visualises a turbulent time for marginalised individuals in the East End of England’s capital. Indicating historic points, an old-fashioned flip calendar indicates the 2000s slowly turning into the 2010s.
At the centre of the story which spans nearly twenty years is Hughbert, father to two children and guardian to many others. Having established Blaze FM, the drill music blaring pirate radio station, in the early 90s, he is now struggling to pass the legacy onto his children. It is not only the Department of Trade and Industry that demolishes the antenna every blue moon, which is threatening the survival of the radio station but also gentrification, street violence, cancel culture and many other external influences. However, huddled around the mixing booth, Hughbert and his fosterlings face them without fear.
No Man’s Island gives each of its sixteen performers a moment in the spotlight. Intertwined with historic events such as the Tottenham Riots, the Glenfell Fire, and the London Bridge bombings, every one of the characters experiences their share of trials and tribulations. As street violence takes a cherished member of the found family, another finds fame and fortune on the foundations of Blaze FM, and the championed daughter goes off to university, Hughbert is the stoic figure in the centre. Until even that is threatened.
Combining a wide range of performative mediums, the show directed by Maggie Norris is a rich and multi-sensory experience. Grime performances are projected onto the lovingly decorated stage flats, and rhythmic beats bounce off the stone walls of The Big House Theatre’s multi-faceted performance space.
However, a company of sixteen people combined with a variety of audio-visual expressions can’t help but overstimulate through its pursuit of historic relevancy. Even though the individuals find their place in the long-winded storyline and get to savour it, No Man’s Island’s richness of narrative makes the two-hour-long show overflow with content.
Although relying heavily on a multitude of captivating grime and jungle music performances in the beginning, the show runs out of time towards its finale to tie together all the loose ends. While it can be overlooked that TikTok did not have its rise to fame in 2017, and it is unlikely that it took the Eastern European immigrant fifteen years to be granted a right to remain, being overpowered with character revelations in the last ten minutes of the show puts a small damper on the otherwise superbly performed show.
Buzzing with energy and thoroughly embracing the support that exuberates from every person in the space, The Big House Theatre company deliver a captivating and upbeat musical performance. And so, they cannot really be blamed for trying to do a little too much but rather be applauded for being a strong voice and “fighting against the machine day in and day out”.
It runs until 27 May.
Review: Shirley Both