Hello darkness my old friend… Here, in DenMarked, we have two kinds of darkness: the deep, gloomy, scarring autobiographical narrative of a council estate wannabe hip-hopster-type guy and the lack of light on stage as he
intertwines his compelling monologue with his rappy musical interludes. This latter moves from full blackout mode, through vague outline state to semi-dark with some very strange lighting decisions. It’s a shame as the musical breaks are great, the singing is effective and captivating and the rapping raps.
Not to be able to properly see the artist is, therefore, a mistake that needs addressing – presumably by Director Ria Parry – so that the audience can get the performer’s full musical load. The telling but underused side-lights that are employed in one number should, in my view, be used far more frequently in the musical sequences. (And the lights that come on and don’t light anything should perhaps be ditched).
Because this guy can sing – so we’d like to be able to see him when he does. This guy is Conrad Murray. He has penned an autobiographical soliloquy which, whilst apolitical in tone and substance, is undoubtedly a diatribe
against the lack of social cohesion that typifies our nation. I use the term “soliloquy” advisedly as the autobiographical stuff is interspersed with pertinent quotes from Hamlet which become a kind of Elsinorian backdrop to the events of his troubled and violent upbringing, with the phrase “Denmark is a prison” being the key pointer: Murray’s world is also a prison – from which, like Hamlet, he can never escape though there is some hope, as he eventually lands a job as a Drama teacher, that he might get out into an extended exercise yard.
It’s an engrossing story set in the South London hinterland – a distinction I share with Murray and can thus appreciate the apposite channeling of Peter Sellers alongside Shakespeare. But rather than “Balham, gateway to the south” us Sarf Lunnon Sellers aficionados would respectfully remind Mr Murray that it is actually “Bal-Ham”.
As well as singing this guy can also act – to an extent. There were some early audibility problems and his throaty delivery rendered some aspects of enunciation problematic – not helped, it has to be said, by his frequent coughing at this performance. But his biggest drawback is the insistence of delivering his monologue in exactly the same position, centre stage, throughout the show – only moving behind his mixing desk (into the dark) to deliver the songs. OK, so he has the full range of authentic rap-gesture – which only really consists of the split-finger hand/arm flourish with one or two variations on that digit-shaking theme – but to be stuck in the middle for the duration of his piece with neither clowns to the left or jokers to the right makes little sense. There is plenty of opportunity. Murray depicts a whole host of characters out of his past from the slightly bizarre (as he sees them) right through the whole gamut of the strange to the full-blown weirdonistas and he uses voice inflection effectively for these; but this, surely, is the opportunity for him to move away from his centre-stage strait-jacket and give us a genuine show – with movement, with body language, with gesture. Again, Director Parry has an important role here: DenMarked is very much Murray’s baby and his input into the presentation of his work will always be key but it’s up to Parry to keep a very close eye on the self-indulgence index. With proper lighting, proper direction and proper movement we will have a proper show.
The production, part of the excellent Courtyard Theatre’s Writers Avenue project, is, I would suggest, very much a work in progress and excellent value for that: I look forward to further work from Murray. And the Courtyard Theatre, with its two spaces, cosy bar and warm welcome is always worth a visit – situated as it is within easy reach of Old Street Tube and round the corner from the vibrant Hoxton Square – a peaceful oasis surrounded by a
wonderfully eclectic mix of restaurants and bars. Make the trip!
Review by Peter Yates
Written and performed by Conrad Murray (left)
Directed by Rita Parry
60 mins/no interval
A combination of hip-hop and theatre, Conrad’s honest, raw and humorous show is told through segments of blistering beatbox, guitar and Shakespeare-infused storytelling live-mixed with a loop station. DenMarked returns after a successful run at Battersea Arts Centre in March 2017.