The Big Life

The Big Life

Theatre Royal Stratford East

5/5 based on 1 review (read reviews)
  • Booking until: Saturday, 30 March 2024
  • Running time: Approx 2 hours 30 minutes (incl. interval)
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The Big Life photos
The Big Life
The Big Life description

It blew audiences away in 2004, transferring from the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 2005 and receiving an Olivier Award nomination for Best New Musical in 2006. Now this powerful musical exploration of the Jamaican people who came here on the Empire Windrush in 1948 is back in theatreland to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

A big new life awaits four young men from the West Indies as they sail the ocean to their new home in Britain. A powerful story woven with the support of a host of vibrant Ska tunes, it’s coming to Theatre Royal Stratford East for 2024.

Directed by Tinuke Craig (Trouble in Butetown) with music by Paul Joseph, lyrics by Paul Sirett, and a book by Paul Sirett and Tameka Empson, this is a fresh revival of the acclaimed Theatre Royal Stratford East and West End musical.

As well as a fun-packed, uplifting experience there’s a serious side to the story. Enjoying a warm welcome from many people, the West Indian people who came here on Windrush also experienced bigotry and ignorance from the English. You might find some scenes hard to watch.

The story? We start off on board the Windrush Empire, en route between the West Indies to London. Young Ferdy, Bernie, Dennis and Lennie are high on the excitement of their new life. They know building this grand new life will take dedication and focus, so they decide to avoid drink and women for three years until they’ve achieved their ambitions.

Sybil, Mary, Zulieka and Kathy know men need more than a comfortable bed, three meals a day and raw ambition. As the women predict, the men’s resolutions are tested as they experience the reality of life in a strange country, which makes the company of females harder to resist. Will the men stick with their idea of The Big Life or fall head over heels in love?

This is the first ever West End musical set in a British black community. The central plot comes from Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour’s Lost, a great match, and plenty of romantic fun adds heart to a parade of cheery Ska numbers and moody bluesy tracks. A group of live musicians accompanies the songs for extra ear-candy.

Directed by Tinuke Craig (Trouble in Butetown, Jitney), the show’s impressive cast features Eastenders star Tameka Empson reprising her role as Mrs Aphrodite from the original production. Juliet Agnes (The Tempest, Wonder Boy) is Kathy and Danny Bailey (A Strange Loop, Jesus Christ Superstar) plays Admiral and Eros. Gabrielle Brooks (Milma’s Tale, Once On This Island, Get Up, Stand Up!) is Sybil, Nathanael Campbell (Flowers For Mrs Harris, Come From Away) plays Bernie, and Khalid Daley (Choir Boy, Hamilton) plays Dennis.

Beth Elliott from Black Love plays Jacqueline and the Secretary, Leanne Henlon (Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner) is Mary, Rachel John (The Secret Life of Bees, The Bodyguard) plays Zulieka, Karl Queensborough from Hamilton and Sylvia is Lennie, and Ashley Samuels (Oklahoma!, Hairspray) is Ferdy.

The creative team includes Jasmine Swan (Set and Costume Designer), Elliot Griggs (Lighting Designer), Emma Laxton (Sound Designer), Ian Oakley (Musical Director), Ingrid Mackinnon (Choreographer), Jacob Sparrow (Casting Director), Becky Livermore (Costume Supervisor), John Boqwana-Page (Production Manager), and Vanessa Sutherland (Company Stage Manager).

Playing at Theatre Royal Stratford East

Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford, E15 1BN GB (venue info)

Theatre Royal Stratford East Directions

Age restrictions

10+ (contains one use of a strong racial slur)