14 February 2006 WOS Rating: In 2005 Elimina's Kitchen and proved that black theatre in Britain could reach out and attract large audiences and finally become part of the mainstream. The Big Life Sonia Hughes' first opened in Manchester in 2004. This character-led piece featuring a mother trying to get to know her daughter after many years is well performed, but ultimately it does not have the depth of The Weeding Cane Kwame Kwei-Armah's work.
Carla Henry plays Joy, a girl who enjoys the simple things in life. She picks fruit from the trees, loves the outdoors and her beloved grandmother, Nen Men. Following the sudden death of this loving guardian, Joy finds herself whisked off to England to discover the mother who left her behind and a country so different from her Caribbean home. Grieving for her surrogate parent and her homeland she struggles to settle into her new life where freedom, fresh air and contentment is replaced by tube trains and a kitchen full of white goods.
Henry is absolutely wonderful as the young displaced daughter. She manages to convey every emotion possible via her excellent use of body language. She also excels when called upon to deliver a monologue and always gains a laugh from the enthralled audience.
Juliet Lewis also fares very well as Mama, sending ribbons through the post in a desperate attempt to remain in her child's memory.
Wylie Longmore's direction enables the actors to share the limelight equally giving the audience a good understanding of what motivates these two lost souls. Jim Parris' moving music is the perfect soundtrack to this tale of lost love and feelings of neglect.
Sonia Hughes has crafted an interesting piece and her writing is at times quite raw and at others incredibly and warm. But the main problem is at only one hour long, the play is too short. I wanted to find out more about Nen Men, see more of her character on stage interacting with Joy. As it stands, you are left with a beautiful mini play which feels insubstantial as whilst it is entertaining, it has no real resonance. Audiences may demand more conflict, more back-story, in short more plot. But itís Ultimately, worth seeing for the performers alone.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Royal Exchange, Manchester)
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