Play: Bullet Tongue Reloaded
Theatre: The Big House
Playwrights: Andrew Day and Sonya Hale
Director: Maggie Norris
Review by Chama Kay
County lines is the name given to the practice of drug dealers from large cities expanding their operations by selling their products in smaller towns. Increasingly, black teenagers are at the forefront of this phenomenon, and it is against this backdrop that Bullet Tongue Reloaded is set.
The story mainly revolves around Bumper, played by Shonagh Marie. At the tender age of 17, her mother has recently died, her older brother is in prison and all she has is a stepfather (of sorts) and her friends. Part of a self identified gang, Bumper’s life in the underground economy presents two opportunities which prove too good to turn down, and are indeed too good to be true.
Bullet Tongue Reloaded uses promenade staging, a technique where the audience moves to different locations, brilliantly. Michael Harpur’s stage design, Ed Clarke’s sound and the graphic design by Tizer add an incredibly distinct feel to each scene and setting. This carries through to the contrast in social status, relationships with authority and a sense of belonging, which is palpable as you move through each space.
Without a good story, a set is only plaster walls and furniture, but thankfully Day and Hale’s script doesn’t disappoint. The 16-member ensemble are used to tell a series of interwoven stories, all of which represent a specific aspect of life for young people caught up in drug crime. One storyline that resonates is that of Yasmin, played by Auzelina Pinto. A documentary filmmaker who seeks to get close to Bumper, her story arch exposes the voyeuristic and self interested nature of those who seek to learn the “truth about gangs”.
One of the true wonders of this play lies in the fact that it can be viewed from so many different angles – literally and metaphorically. The stories and characters stick with you, amplified by Maggie Norris’ strong direction. This, along with the high energy performances by the cast and the even pacing of the action, makes for a well-crafted piece – a great achievement considering the logistical demands.
Bullet Tongue Reloaded is an intense piece of theatre dealing with some heavy themes, from hard drugs to intense violence and sexual assault. Mad Mike (Dymond X) adds the right amount of levity to keep the action going. Such is the play’s impact that anyone who may be affected by any of these issues will need to bear this in mind.
One exchange sums up the play. When told that the life of drug dealing is not the answer, gang member Skanka (Raphael Addai) responds: “Man didn’t really have any questions.”
This play pushes the harsh and ugly reality of Britain’s forgotten black youth directly to the forefront. It doesn’t offer solutions, preach social responsibility or steer the kids away from wrong path. In the tradition of Gangsta Rap, early Grime and present day Drill, Bullet Tongue Reloaded tells the story of the ignored – and does so incredibly well.
Just be sure to bring your walking shoes.
Bullet Tongue Reloaded plays at The Big House until Saturday 15 June.