As The Big Life prepares to transfer to the Apollo Theatre later this month (See News, 5 Apr 2005), Theatre Royal Stratford East - which spawned the West End’s first-ever indigenously created musical set amongst Britain’s own black community – continues to expand the reach of black British theatre.

Bashment, running from 25 May to 18 June (previews from 20 May) at the east London venue, is centred around the homophobic influences of today’s dance-hall reggae music, known as ‘bashment’. Written and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair, one of the UK’s leading black directors, the play with music looks at what happens when the gay-bashing lyrics and the culture that inspires them lead to a gay man being viciously beaten up in a club.

Commenting on the play, Beadle-Blair, who professes a long-held concern about the homophobia rampant in reggae music, says: “I wanted to do something, and I wanted to challenge my own. And that’s why I wrote this play – to look for the truth, and to try to do justice to our humanity.”

The cast of Bashment are: Ludvig Bonin, Nathan Clough, Jennifer Daley, Joel Dommett, Arnie Hewitt, Duncan MacInnes, Joe Marshall, Anthony Newell, Jason Teed and Luke Toulson. The production is designed by Guiseppe Di Iorio and features an original score by Joni Levinson.

Currently at Stratford East, another new black musical, Christopher Rodriguez’s High Heel Parrotfish!, continues its month-long season until this Saturday, 7 May 2005. It’s drag night at Miller’s Bar in Trinidad and outside Carnival fever is raising temperatures. The calypso and soca musical is co-produced at Stratford in association with black theatre companies Talawa and Nitro.

Premiered in April 2004 at Stratford East, where it returned for a sell-out engagement this past February, The Big Life will receive its West End premiere at the Apollo Theatre on 23 May 2005 (previews from 11 May). The musical follows just weeks after the opening at the Garrick Theatre of Kwame Kwei-Armah's Elmina's Kitchen, the West End’s first-ever indigenously created play set amongst Britain’s own black community (See “The Changing Colour of the West End”, Features, 2 May 2005) .

Transporting Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost to 1950s London, The Big Life opens on the Windrush over from the Caribbean to England, with a group of men making a pact not to get involved with women for three years whilst they ‘institute a regime of work and betterment’. Each man’s resolve is tested as one by one they fall prey to Cupid’s arrow. With period-style ska music, The Big Life charts the story of the Caribbean immigrants in their quest for a better life in Britain and their struggle to find work, homes and acceptance in their adopted country.

The Big Life is directed by actor Clint Dyer, who made his theatrical directorial debut with the show, and designed by Jenny Tiramani, with lighting by Gerry Jenkinson. Amongst the original actors, who will be reprising their roles, are: Jason Pennycooke, Claudia Cadette, Chris Tummings, Geoff Aymer, Marcus Powell, Victor Romero Evans, Yaa, Amanda Horlock and Neil Reidman.

- by Terri Paddock