In an underground car park, Callum (Aston McAuley) attempts to get his life back on track by running. Up and down he runs, nothing but him and the white lines and the space where he can showcase the best of himself. In an underground car park, he is the Phoenix Rising – but unlike the phoenix, he is knocked back down into the ashes time and time again.

It’s a fiery, passionate performance from McAuley, a stand-out star who displays versatility and range by balancing a variety of personalities and motivations throughout his performance. The linking emotional thread is a fearful anger – anger at the social care system, anger at his mother’s inability to take care of both him and his sister Linda (Jade O’Sullivan), anger that a disease (Oz Enver) sits on his shoulder and hampers his every move.

Andy Day’s script is a bittersweet tale, relentlessly piling the pressure and heartache on individuals who have already been dealt a bad hand. Maggie Norris’ adept direction complements an ensemble who are all genuinely passionate, energised and dedicated to the performance, which gives Phoenix Rising an inherent, uplifting positivity. From upbeat joker Bready (Daniel Akilimali) and cocky poser Omar (Jordan Bangura), to conniving shit-stirrer Nina (Perrina Allen) or despondent mother Hannah (Rebecca Farinre), every actor throws their all into their role. It warms the frosty atmosphere created by both surroundings and subject matter alike.

But the true magic of Phoenix Rising is in its ingenious staging. Norris physically guides her audience from scene to scene with curiosity and intrigue – as one chapter concludes, Zoe Spurr’s crafty lighting design catches the eye from across the car park and draws the audience across to the next piece of the puzzle. Combined with Ed Clarke’s subtle soundscape and Emma Bailey’s dishevelled, dilapidated designs, Norris takes advantage of her location to add a gritty undertone to each interaction.

Callum (McAuley) is in a constant battle with society and with himself. It’s a struggle that bears down upon him, much like the concrete monstrosity of the car park hems in and compresses the story of Phoenix Rising. But rather than buckling under the strain, Norris and her team spread their wings and make full use of the unusual potential in such a site-specific, promenade work. He may be physically beaten down, but Callum’s strength of will, as well as that of his fellow actors, rises triumphantly.

 

★★★★☆

To read more about Phoenix Rising, which plays Smithfield Car Park until 2 December 2017, follow the theatre company on Twitter (@BigHouseTheatre) or visit the website – thebighouse.uk.com