‘It’s really important to keep this flame of live theatre alive’

Maggie Norris

Maggie Norris - Credit: Archant

The Ballad of Corona V at Islington’s The Big House sees young actors who have been through the care system explore the comedy, tragedy and inequalities of the pandemic

Jermaine Freeman appears in The Big House Ballad of Corona V

Jermaine Freeman appears in The Big House Ballad of Corona V - Credit: Archant

Socially distanced rehearsals are underway for The Big House’s latest show about “the comedy and tragedy of the pandemic”.

It follows months of enforced closure for the Islington charity, which works with young people who have been through the care system.

Like all their shows, The Ballad of Corona V was inspired by members’ stories - only this time they were shared over Zoom.

“Our production of Million Pound Boy was closed due to lockdown,” says Maggie Norris, who founded The Big House in 2013 after years working with ex offenders and young people at risk of crime.

Eleanor Wyld appears in The Big House Ballad of Corona V

Eleanor Wyld appears in The Big House Ballad of Corona V - Credit: Archant

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“We continued to support the young ones through Zoom and managed to do that quite well. We had lots of fun doing improv, but we were also stepping into the gap for those who had trouble accessing their key workers or social workers.

“This building represents a home to many, and closing it down was very sad. So it was great to open the door again in July. You can’t replace human contact.”

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The Big House is as much about members’ voices being heard as it is about theatre, and

the 19-strong cast performing at their base in Englefield Road will certainly achieve that.

Writer David Watson attended Zoom drop-ins featuring “improv, games and debate” before penning the script.

“Our subjects are always dictated by what’s on their mind and we were very aware with this pandemic that the idea we are all in this together was patently not true. The experience for our young people was very different and they wanted to show that discrepancy.

“We’ve designed a show that’s socially distanced, you can buy tickets in your bubble of six at 15 minute intervals, go on a socially distanced promenade and never meet the rest of the audience.

“We’re hugely lucky to have a building that allows people to see theatre but be very safe. Rehearsals are also socially distanced so actors can only be in one scene.”

Without giving too much away, conspiracy theories around 5G networks and an appearance by the Prime Minister feature in the show.

“It’s about misinformation, feeling powerless, and a feeling they are being manipulated in some way, added to the confused position that the government found themselves in, and how that impacted them,” says Norris.

“It’s very funny, it’s important for us to be able to laugh and to speak at a time when we are becoming incredibly nervous of expressing ourselves in this politically correct way.”

The Big House’s policy of reflecting accurately - and not censoring - the voices of members has led to past productions which are “challenging or contentious”.

“It’s healthy to have that debate and ask difficult and complex questions,” she says.

“Bullet Tongue really put the audience on the spot because the middle classes are up in arms wanting to dismantle county lines, but it’s a successful alternative economy that grew up on the back of lack of opportunity. If you shut it down and don’t give opportunity, a new version will spring up.”

“Ballad is also hugely moving and seeing the young people perform these stories is particularly wonderful. It’s really important for us to keep this flame of live theatre alive.”

The Ballad of Corona V runs from October 28-November 21. thebighouse.uk.com

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