Writer: James Meteyard
Music: The Last Skeptic
Director: Maggie Norris
Redemption is an extraordinary new work, a play with music conceived by director Maggie Norris as a site-specific show for The Big House, with text and lyrics by James Meteyard and music by The Last Skeptik. The Big House works with young people at high risk of social exclusion and provides a platform for their raw undiscovered talents. The venue is truly a big, rambling house and in this thrilling production, audience members walk up and down the stairs to various rooms in which scenes are played out. Set designer Zoë Hurwitz transforms these spaces into everything from a recording studio to a basement club, through various parking lots and dark bridges. Daniel Denton’s video design is superb – there’s a real thrill being in a studio that’s supposedly closed for a video shoot.
Maz, played with extraordinary poise by Renaya Dennis, is a young woman who shies away from care forever. She is a tightly coiled ball of energy. delivering his fierce rap with furious intensity. As the show opens, a group of arrogant young male rappers laugh at her, all confidently boasting about their bars. Their manager invited a fixer, Darnell, fresh from LA, all sunglasses and bling, to work with them. They are promised recording contracts and fame. A boy sits to the side, calm Tayo (Shaquille Jack). But when he sings he is obviously the real star. He has a voice of moving beauty and a real presence when he performs.
Maz’s hard shell is pierced by his song Frozen Lake, but his heart will take a long time to melt. Sent alone from Nigeria as a child, Tayo struggled to survive; without friends, his only outlet is songwriting. Maz’s aggression also stems from a dysfunctional upbringing: his mother was an alcoholic; her beloved brother committed suicide at age 16. It is not surprising that the health care system is now finding its behavior difficult.
It’s Tayo who thinks Maz has a voice – not that of a rapper, but a hidden lyrical voice that he brings out for her. She tentatively shares with him the only song her brother has ever written. An extraordinary scene takes place in a comfortable projection room in an arthouse cinema, where they sneak in with the complicity of an exuberant housekeeper, Patricia (Tajah Workman-Jeffrey). Tentatively, the couple exchange personal stories and songs. But when Maz assumes Tayo wants sex, she can’t understand this shy boy’s reluctance. He is a brilliant character who recalls how damaged these young people are, unable to trust, quick to reject.
There may be too much intrigue to wrap up, and the final half hour of this 145-minute show loses momentum in a difficult mix of melodrama, comedy, and well-meaning preaching. The message about the possibility of redemption is undoubtedly uplifting, but we don’t need it to be spelled out. The show itself has convincingly demonstrated that even the most damaged lives can be turned around, that there are people you can turn to for help.
Until December 11, 2021