Authentic and powerful immersive show about gang culture, devised with at-risk young people
It’s a rainy Monday night and I’m standing in a stranger’s living room when someone pulls out a gun.
Okay, it’s a plastic one, but still, it’s enough to make the crowd jump. I’m watching ‘Bullet Tongue’, the latest production from The Big House, a theatre company that works with at-risk young people to bring their experiences to the stage. It’s the organisation’s first show at its new home in a disused frame factory in Islington. Making full use of the space, the production is a promenade show. We move around as the story unfolds in different parts of the building – from a gang member’s living room to a graffitied street to a caravan in Eastbourne, each space with a different backdrop.
‘Bullet Tongue’ explores London’s gang culture through a group of teenagers, including a stand-out performance from Shonagh Woodburn-Hall who plays the fierce 16-year-old Bumper. The plot is informed by the real experiences of the actors and you can tell – it feels authentic and, as a result, deeply bleak at times. But there are funny moments too: like Bumper’s sort-of stepdad barbecuing sausages in his teeny-tiny Speedos outside the caravan.
Immersive theatre is often a vehicle for the silly and absurd, but ‘Bullet Tongue’ does something completely different. The audience moves with the action, but there’s no singling people out or awkwardly getting them to interact. From sitting in the prison visitors’ room to witnessing an older gang leader supply Bumper with a gun, being so close to the drama really brings it home. It’s a deeply engaging show that forces the audience to listen to these stories which are so often ignored.