ZooNation: Some Like It Hip Hop at Sadlers Wells Peacock Theatre.
“This isn’t just theatre!” bellows the narrator as the curtain rises. “This is Hip Hop theatre, so make as much noise as you like!” The audience, a bewilderingly eclectic mixture of young and old, funky and frumpy, took him at his word, clapping, screaming and stamping at each new back flip, krump and spin until the rafters of the Peacock Theatre rang with the joyous cacophony.
And what back-flips, krumps and spins they were. Director Kate Prince has assembled a masterful army of talent, who between them carry a rather predictable story line and transform it into something extraordinary.
The plot pays perfunctory lip-service to the classic film Some Like it Hot, starring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, but reverses the premise so that we have women dressing up as men and challenging a culture of misogyny and oppression.
Wisely Prince forgoes any attempt at realism and instead situates the story in a fantastical dystopian city ruled over by a tyrannical governor, who after losing the love of his life vents his bitterness on his loyal subjects. Books are burned, love is banned, and he even manages to block out the sun. Worst of all, women are considered to be second class citizens.
Rebellious citizens Jo-Jo (Lizzie Gough) and Kerri (Teneisha Bonner) are banished from the city, but manage to sneak back in dressed as men, and with the help of bookish Simeon (Tommy Franzen), Oprah (Natasha Gooden) and Sudsy Partridge (Shaun Smith), set about revolutionising attitudes around them, all the while indulging in a fair bit of forbidden romance. It is performed rather as a hip hop ballet; action and emotions are expressed through mime and dance, while the commentary is provided by a narrator and by singers who are also very much part of the action. The hummable score, by DJ Walde and Josh Cohen, ranges from soul to jazz to gospel to beat-box, and if some of the songs occasionally went on too long, certainly nobody in the audience was complaining. The variety of the music meant that some fun could be had with the performances. “The Rules of Seduction” had more than a whiff of “Women, Know Your Place”, and the hilarious laundrette scene in “If I Could Be With You” was decidedly doo-wap musical theatre, with smiling heads poking from between sheets and out of washing machines.
However it is of course the dancing which truly makes the show spectacular. The choreography is superb, and allows each character to bring their personality and emotions to life. Gough is a perky and whimsical Jo-Jo and Bonner as Kerri is at once sexy and deliciously comic – especially in a scene where she is trying to avoid the amorous advances of Oprah. Their swagger and over-blown testosterone when dressed as men is entertaining and comes across brilliantly in dance. Smith is an engaging and rubber-limbed Sudsy, but it is Franzen’s beaming, be-vested Simeon who steals the show, and becomes, as far as I can judge from the teenage howls behind me – a rather unlikely sex-symbol.
The most enjoyable scenes are the group numbers. The cast vaults, twists and tumbles around Ben Stones’ grim city-scape, all rusting corrugated iron and burning bins, with breath-taking precision and infectious glee. They climb on the walls and each other, slide under tables and through legs, duck, spin and leapfrog, all in the blink of an eye. The climactic and inevitable dance-off fight between the warring sides was dazzling, and left the audience baying for more, which they duly got in the form of individual dance sketches from each performer then one last, booming group finale. Almost despite myself I was on my feet dancing with the rest of the audience, before bouncing out into the night, a big smile on my face.
For those whose tastes run exclusively to quiet, subtle, intricately plotted theatre, this show is probably not for them. However to those of you who think Hip Hop is really not your thing, or those who feel too old or too staid, I say book your ticket now. I promise, you will be very happily surprised.
Review by Genni Trickett
Thursday 9th May 2013