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Sound Clash: Death in the Arena Pleasance Courtyard

The term ‘sound clash’ has its own Wikipedia page. I’ve never been to one, and I’m not sure the build up to the implausibly brief clash that happens in this show was completely worth it. Sound systems belonging to different DJs (or, as this production would have it, MCs) are setup, though in this future dystopian world, this particular sound clash will decide which ‘party’ wins political power. In other words, there is no General Election. Just a Sound Clash in (wait for it) Sound City.

Sound Clash - Death in the Area. Credit Ashley Kazzandra.
Sound Clash – Death in the Area. Credit Ashley Kazzandra.

Except, as one might reasonably expect, very few things, if anything at all, is ‘sound’ (as in the colloquial use of the word, meaning ‘good’, ‘decent’ or ‘acceptable’). The Southern Thunders are the challengers to the incumbent Northern Eagles – no cast list was available, and not every character name was decipherable, ironically as the sound system wasn’t perfect, at least not from my vantage point. As Tony Benn (and others) used to say, if ‘none of the above’ were an available option on the ballot paper, ‘none of the above’ could well win.

Given the Jamaican roots of the sound clash, I had expected the show to be somewhat louder than it was, or at least have more substantial bass beats. My points of reference are DJs and MCs who play the sort of music performed in this production in London. Decades ago, when I attended the Notting Hill Carnival out of curiosity, it was the sort of music one listens to with one’s chest. The play spends so much time, however, not playing any music at all, and while there’s nothing wrong with overexplaining the storyline – I’ll take that over sitting in the stalls being baffled any day of the year, thank you – there’s a lot of spoken conversation.

Watching expressions of love in this show sometimes felt like watching a Shakespeare play (yes, there’s a compliment in there somewhere), though I couldn’t help thinking whether more songs could have been included to drive the narrative forward. Further, this was, frankly, more of a dance clash – and, from where I was sitting, a light clash: a patron in the row behind raised his arm at one point to shield his line of sight from the dazzling lights.

Some credit is due, however, for bringing a sound clash to the Edinburgh Fringe in the first place – I’m not aware of anything like this show anywhere else in the Fringe programme. They did get me out of my seat and awkwardly shuffling along to a rousing final number. The plot is predictable, at surface level, in the sense that good triumphs over evil, but there are some nuanced twists in the story that help to maintain interest. And while ‘jaw, jaw’ is indeed better than ‘war, war’ I really would have preferred more noise in the form of music than spoken word.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Conceived by Levi Roots, the reggae musician, chef and entrepreneur, Sound Clash: Death in the Arena is a contemporary street musical about star-crossed lovers. This world premiere is written by the award-winning novelist and playwright, Alex Wheatle MBE, produced by Adrian Grant (Thriller – Live), choreographed by Jade Hackett (Hex, National Theatre; Get Up, Stand Up), and directed by renowned director and actor Ray Shell (the originator of Nomax in Five Guys Named Moe and Rusty in Starlight Express). It tells a story of young love, betrayal, and murder in the dancehall.

Enter Sound City; where music is everything, and two warring sound systems – The Eagles and The Thunders – fight for power. When young lovers, Ashley and Kazzandra, are torn apart by family politics and musical warfare, what follows are electric dance-offs and lyrical battles in the Sound Clash Arena.

Created by Levi Roots
Writer Alex Wheatle MBE
Producer Adrian Grant
Director Ray Shell
Choreographer Jade Hackett
Notes Ages 12+, contains scenes of violence
Social Media @SoundClashShow

Sound Clash: Death in the Arena
Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance One), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ
Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August 2023

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