REVIEW Some Like It Hip Hop
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REVIEW Some Like It Hip Hop, Mayflower
By David Cradduck
Images by Simon Prince
I admit here and now, I wasn’t sure what to expect from ‘Some Like It Hip Hop’ and I am not a huge fan of either break dancing or rap. But just a few minutes into this very physical theatre, I was hooked.
The first ten minutes was given over to local ZooNation youth dancers and what a joy it is to see the young so energetically and enthusiastically throwing themselves into it – and then joining the rest of us audience to appreciate what can be done if you train and work hard enough at it.
With a nod – and it really is only a nod – to Billy Wilder’s ‘Some Like it Hot’ there is comedy, romance, pathos and 50s style cross dressing (two girls who dress up as men for reasons that become obvious). But that is where the similarity ends, so if you’re going because you think it’s an updated version of the famous film, think again.
ZooNation’s founder, director, book co-writer and choreographer Kate Prince MBE took the theatre and dance world by storm with this amazing show some eight years ago, prompting an Olivier award nomination and five star reviews.
This 2019 UK tour, which only lasts just over a month and plays to a small number of venues, is the latest and funkiest. It sees The Mayflower sporting just three performances in two days; the audience wasn’t full on opening night, but my goodness those who were there certainly made up for it in volume and standing appreciation.
The storyline is pretty thin, it has to be said: in a dark, oppressive city somewhere in the past (or future), the ‘Guv’nor’ has banned all books and shut out the sunlight; the reason is that he is mourning for the lost love of his life and the result is a dystopian world where only men count, work or matter and women have been reduced to subservient slaves.
In breaking the rules – reading books – the two heroines Jo-Jo and Kerri are banished from the city and return dressed as men with some predictable results – the scene in the men’s sleeping quarters when preparing for bed is hilarious and certainly the closest scene to the story from which it borrowed its title.
What makes this show completely different from anything I have ever seen is the non-stop, lithe, athletic, physics-defying street dancing that is at the core of it.
It appears effortless and the 16-strong ensemble hardly break into a sweat as they go through break dancing routines that look spontaneous but are obviously meticulously and skillfully choreographed down to each, sometimes jerky, movement.
The cast tells the story with the minimum of spoken words (with the exception of a narrator) by spinning, somersaulting, cartwheeling their way through some really complex dance routines and extremely nifty footwork.
The music, for the most part, is suitably fast, funky, loud, syncopated and engineered but there are a couple of balladic and balletic numbers to provide light and shade and balance to the show.
There is rap, yes, but not a lot, and the standard and power of singing, often gospel-inspired, is stunning and perfectly matched to the visual spectacle.
The way the singers are positioned – always in the wings, on high but hardly ever centre stage – has you visually seeking them out. Add to that the occasional ‘beatboxing’ (making drum sounds with your voice) and the musical element is complete and infectious.
At a time when BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing is probably the most popular show on prime time TV, where every movement, posture and emotion is analysed in excruciating detail it surprises me that a show like ‘Some Like It Hip Hop’, where the standard of the dance, choreography, lighting and timing is nothing short of perfection, doesn’t command bigger audiences.
Perhaps it is a dance genre that by its very nature and background came from the streets and is therefore wrongly regarded as ‘untrained’. Perhaps this is, as Kate Prince offers, “original music and dance to inspire the next generation of theatregoers and theatre makers”.
Having seen and reviewed traditional musical shows, ‘out of the box’ percussion theatre like ‘Stomp’, ballet and opera, it seems to me that it is high time to introduce hip hop and its spin-offs into mainstream theatre and entertainment.
And the audience, young and old, love it, sing, stomp and clap along with it. It’s not very often you hear the invitation at the start to ‘make as much noise as you can’ and they certainly did just that from curtain up to curtain call and drowned out the crackling of sweet packets very nicely too.
More information on the work that ZooNation does, the workshops it runs and its close community work can be found on their website, www.zoonation.co.uk, along with details of their shows.