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‘Mission’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
A girl acting in the Big House Theatre
Photograph: Dan Corbett
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A heart-tugging, trippy play about class and self-belief by Islington’s Big House Theatre Company

There’s something dream-like about ‘Mission’, David Watson’s new play for the Big House Theatre: it floats in and out of consciousness like an interrupted sleep, with neither the characters or audience knowing exactly what’s going on.

It begins as we meet protagonist Akayah slouched on a mattress. An addict forced into sex work, she’s young, broke, and fragile, hiding behind a feisty shell. An older man, clad in a pinstriped three-piece suit, appears beside her, looming like God or a guardian angel. ‘Do you have a master’s degree in a STEM subject?’ he asks. ‘I want to offer you an opportunity.’ 

The cast and audience are then ushered into the room next door by the sound of the 239 bus to Edmonton Green, where Akayah unwillingly finds herself at her old care home. Ingrid Hu’s set consists of a large, white mesh cube: most of the acting takes place behind this veil, creating a hazy, distancing effect, like looking into a cage. It doubles up as a screen for projections to assist with some of the more abstract and hard-to-watch storytelling: a birth, an overdose, a fading hallucination. 

Turns out, the mysterious man (played with charming charisma by Mensah Bediako) claims to be an outreach officer for a NASA programme based in Florida. He sees Akaya’s potential, and before she knows it she’s wearing a boiler suit, whisked away from Luton to enrol in mission ‘Aurora’. Between navigating a new social circle and the academic challenges of the programme, cracks begin to show in her confidence as she constantly questions if the whole thing is real. But is it? An echoing tannoy weaves in and out, advising people to ‘move down in the bus’.

The writing is clever, if a little clunky at times. The characters are distinct and memorable: there’s the ditzy care worker, the irksome, over-the-top American astronaut, and T, Akaya’s messy but amusing love interest. And of course there’s Akaya, played by the brilliantly vibrant Nkechi Simms, whose acting becomes all the more convincing as the play goes on. After more than one unexpected arrival, Akaya’s new life comes crashing down to reality when she finds herself surrounded by her drugged up parents and a birthday cake.

‘Mission’ is a surreal and hypnotic whirlwind, with a glaringly dark message unravelling under the bright, starry backdrop. It’s a commentary on ambition and class mobility, a warning about the limits of following your dreams. You don’t need an expensive masters degree to prove your worth. Everyone deserves opportunities, but some people might have to work ten times harder than others to get them.

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

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