17 March 2008

Into the Hoods - Novello Theatre, Friday 14th March 2008


Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, two children ran away in search of freedom,but found themselves lost....in the hood. Welcome to the Ruff Endz Estate, the home of the vinyl spinning DJ Spinderella, who is dating the uber confident lady magnet Prince who, being a "true playa" is two timing her with the vivacious rapper MC Rap-on-Zel. She lives on the 10th floor of the tower block, letting down her long hair extenshuns from her window so that Prince can pay her secret visits. Then there is Lil Red, a singer who has just signed a deal with Wolf, the manager of Big TeefRecords. She secretly has feelings for music producer Jakk (who lives in the basement) who is struggling with debt, is late on the rent and facing eviction. A desperate Jakk enters into some dodgy dealings with Giant, the resident drug-dealing pimp, who lives in the penthouse. The children meet The Landlord, who sends them out to work for him with the task of finding gifts for his daughter Rap-On-Zel's birthday. In return, he promises to see them out of the Hood and safely home. They have only four days to find: an ipod as white as milk, a hoodie as red as blood, a weave as yellow as corn and trainers as pure as gold...

Those of you who are familiar with Stephen Sondheim might well recognise the above synopsis as being pretty damned similar to his work "Into the Woods" which I have reviewed elsewhere. As there was no mention of this in the programme, Im not sure whether to label this production as an affectionate tribute or a complete rip-off. Whichever it is, only those familiar with the source would really have appreciated how clever/how much of a rip-off this is. Unfortunately,unless "Into the Woods" has been performed at Belmarsh Prison or the local Young Offender's Correction Facilty recently, I very much doubt that many of the bruvvas and sistas in the audience would have realised this - it was very much aimed at the "Yeah but no but yeah but no" demographic. A comment I overheard (well, it didnt take much overhearing as it was bellowed in a voice that would have put the Beachy Head foghorn to shame) showed that most of the audience had only ever been in the kind of theatre that deals with bones broken after falling into the gutta on a night out on the razz in some of the seedier parts of London: "Taneesha, it's massif in 'ere girl!". A few rows behind me were a middle-aged couple looking like they had just stepped off the train from Tunbridge Wells, obviously hanging onto their valuables for dear life and on the sharp look out for knives being waved.

Having been told that curtain-up was at 7.30, it was irritating to sit there for a further 20 minutes surrounded by bus-loads of badly dressed and bling-laden hyenas to the accompaniment of hiphop music so loud that flakes of plaster were falling from the ceiling. It was doubly annoying to find that the first "half" of the evening consisted of what I am reliably informed was a "set" by "poet and comeeeeedien rappa "Mr. Gee" - who stood lamely before the curtain telling unfunny jokes and reciting poems that didnt rhyme and didnt scan about hoodies. The hyenas, of course, lapped all this up and howled their Nikes off (the sista next to me said to her posse member "Jeeeesus man, I is gonna bust somefin if I don't get me sum res-pite soon!"). There was no reaction from anybody in my row and a stony silence from Mr. and Mrs. Tunbridge Wells - probably because we only understood about one word in 10. After 25 minutes of this, an interval was announced. The lights went up and the music recommenced, and us regular theatre-goers sat there blinking in the light and wondering "Is that it?". The hyenas, of course, used the time to drink the bar dry of vodka and Red Bull, send text messages or use their mobiles to take pictures of each other "at the feeertre cos no-one ain't gonna beleeeeve it man".

The curtain finally went up again at 9pm, and for the first 15 minutes I resented like hell what was going on on stage - a street dance version of Into the Woods. No dialogue, only narration by a disembodied voice. No Sondheim tunes - hip hop, rap etc. My bristles went up and I sat there determined not to enjoy it. But then something caught my attention - I think it was the back projection of the estate newsagents, with a board outside "See it now in your magic Mirror"- and I began to think "Hey bro, this is well wicked". The energy pouring across the footlights was astonishing - like The Magic Flute at the Young Vic, the sheer pleasure of performing came across in buckets. I think it was when Lil Red, dreaming of winning her own Grammy (geddit?) had to cross the park to reach the Old Folk's home before sunset in order to visit Granny, that I finally started to really appreciate the thought that had gone into the production.

Of the cast, particularly good were Rhimes Lecointe as a sad (in the modern sense), spoilt and rather tubby Rap-On-Zel forever redoing her cornrows and Rowen Hawkins as a particularly spunky skater-boy Jakk - I could quite happily mount his mighty stalk any time. The highlight though must have been the visit of Fairy Gee - a body-popping six year old black girl in a gold tracksuit (with tutu) and trainers, wearing her hair in enormous bunches, giving it her all and completely upstaging every adult on stage. The audience (apart from the Tunbridge Wells's) went totally beserk at this point.

Costumes were simple, cleverly designed and appropriate for the principals, allowing them to fade back into the ensemble when necessary by donning a different colour hoodie. A major problem, however, was the rounding off of the story during the bows - most of the narration simply couldnt be heard over the screaming and so I missed out on how some of the stories ended. Jakk, it appears, ends up in bed with Lil Red - the bitch.

It was loud, it was raucous, it was completely unexpected, it was fun (once I had got over my disapproval) - but a bit cheeky in terms of it really only lasting an hour and being padded out by the "comedy" turn at the beginning. Mr. and Mrs. Tunbridge Wells staggered off into the night, ashen-faced, partly deafened and probably in search of a couple of very stiff gin and tonics.

No comments: