Home » London Theatre Reviews » String V SPITTA at Soho Theatre | Review

String V SPITTA at Soho Theatre | Review

The show is set at a children’s birthday party, which requires CGI (that is, ‘collective group imagination’, to borrow – well, steal – a phrase from an outdoor family-friendly show I saw some years ago). I was in the minority of people who didn’t have a beer in hand before the show got underway, but that’s because I plumped for a glass of red wine instead. And the performance I attended was the late show at Soho Theatre on a Friday evening: hardly the most conducive setting for singing nursery rhymes and playing ‘pass the parcel’. (Spoiler: there’s no ‘pass the parcel’ in this production.)

String V SPITTA. Credit James Deacon.
String V SPITTA. Credit James Deacon.

Sylvester String (Ed MacArthur) is an established children’s entertainer known, rather unimaginatively, as Mr String, though he notices his work is starting to dry up. Initially, this isn’t a concern, but when his income takes a substantial dive, a conversation with his agent reveals he faces competition in the form of MC SPITTA (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) – all in uppercase, though it’s never explained why, unless I missed it. Spitta – in the absence of any justification, I immediately revert to title case – is doing something String isn’t. He makes extensive use of social media, which means he is popular with children, and in turn, popular with the parents of those children. String, on the other hand, has to have TikTok explained to him.

The show provides a detailed and dramatized backstory as to how precisely it came to be that String (west London, plummy accent) and Spitta (east London, non-plummy accent) ended up as a double act for Anastasia’s birthday party. The idea of Anastasia having Russian oligarchs for parents appears to pre-date Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the show had a previous run at this venue in 2021 – but is nonetheless topical, with current affairs, both on this point and more widely, incorporated into the show with full force.

The west/stinking rich London and east/dirt poor London social divide asserted by the production is, of course, an oversimplification – there are food banks in Kensington and Chelsea, and department stores and upmarket jewellery shops in Westfield Stratford, for instance. But fusing the two extremes together only serves, arguably predictably, that there is more that unites the characters than sets them apart. As ever, sit in the front row at your own risk, though at the performance I attended a young man selected to go on stage (I presume there’s a right of refusal, but he was up for it) elicited hearty cheering and applause from much of the audience, and deservedly so.

Ad-libs from both actors were excellent: whether they actually were ad-libs or extremely convincing scripted remarks passed off as off-script additions is neither here nor there – they very much added to the evening’s entertainment. Some of the one-liners, meanwhile, would on their own produce sighs and eye rolls (“What’s brown and sticky? A stick.”) but in the context of a children’s party, the Christmas cracker gags work surprisingly well. I was, admittedly, the sulky ‘child’ at the back who couldn’t be bothered joining in with the whole ‘big fish, little fish, cardboard box’ actions. Note to readers who dislike audience participation: I wasn’t called out for it. Nobody cared.

There are versatile performances from Smith-Bynoe and MacArthur, with rap battling, magic, puppetry, actor-musicianship, and more (such was the brisk pace of the production I dared not look down for even a nanosecond to make any notes), and above all, fun. It was the best party I’ve been to… possibly ever.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

When it comes to children’s entertainment, nobody does it better than Sylvester ‘Silly’ String. A charming classical virtuoso and top-dog in the lucrative West London kids’ parties market, every kid within a 5 mile radius of the Kings Road wants Silly String and his Silly Songs… until Spitta comes along. SPITTA is a Grime-obsessed maverick from East London who’s shaken up the scene and quickly become the talk of the Kensington playgrounds.

Soho Theatre presents
String V SPITTA
Tue 1 – Thu 10 Aug 23
https://sohotheatre.com/

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