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Review: Big Foot (Stratford Circus)

Joseph Barnes-Phillips presents this semi-autobiographical coming-of-age one-man show

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

We all contain multitudes, but Raleigh is many people in one. Joseph Barnes-Phillips' semi-autobiographical solo show conveys the multiplicity contained within black masculinity. It's not just that his protagonist's Guyanan heritage criss-crosses with his British identity – a mix that manifests itself in tastes stretching from pigs' tails to black pudding. It's that he's a different man in very different circumstances.

He tends to boss it "on the block" with his best mates, giving it all this macho chatter and laying down grime rhymes, but the moment he's back with the dying mother he affectionately nicknames Moon Gazer, he's all ps and qs and sweetness and light. Butter wouldn't melt in this boy's mouth. It's all change again with his girlfriend, Spice Girl, as the lover in him lets loose with a mix of playful patter and flirtatious gentlemanliness. A lot of Big Foot's comedy is wrapped up in the pretence, as Raleigh gets his roles mixed up and indulges in puff-chested posturing. He swings, rather sweetly, from laying down grime beats to bouncing along to bubblegum pop.

In Dominic Garfield's production, Raleigh's a kind of quick-change artist. One moment he's in green paramilitary uniform, a balaclava over his face, the next he's got up in a kid's Peter Pan costume. The boy that never grew up likes to play the big man and, to judge from a stage littered with cuddly toys, it's hard to tell which is the more childish.

All that's nothing, however, next to the biggest shift in his life – from boy to father. When Spice Girl learns of an unexpected pregnancy, Raleigh comes of age in an instant, looking ahead to the new start of fatherhood. Be it buying up baby clothes or doing up his flat, it looks like to be the making of him – the softness neatly undercutting ingrained social stereotypes. It picks up on Raleigh's own male role model: the army recruit father who taught him that masculinity meant treating life like a handshake, with a firm grip.

Barnes Phillips gives a winning performance as Raleigh, never more so than when asking our help to choose his baby son's name. It makes an emotional ending, both as father and son, all the more potent. His charm goes a long way to easing Garfield's busy production, the clutter of which can confuse the core narrative. There are so many different Raleighs, Barnes Phillips seems to be multi-roling – so when he plays other characters as well, it can overload. A simpler staging would serve Big Foot much better. It would let it be many things in one.

Big Foot runs at Stratford Circus until 7 October, then touring until 10 November.