Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Locked In - Birmingham Rep

Locked in by Finn Kennedy
Director: Angela Michaels
Reviewer: Katherine Lunney

Locked In was a passionate whirlwind display of modern teenage culture in east London. The play focuses upon Blaze & Riqi – the Two Wise Men – who bunk off school to spin the decks and rap about their lives on a, presumably pirate, radio show. A joint love of music brings ‘da Christian brother’ and a member of ‘the Muslim Massive’ together in harmony despite any of the racial tensions at their school or amongst their crews. Then the sassy, strong Zahida enters the scene and challenges them both on their views and what they are going to do with their lives.

The outside forces of peer pressure cause the tolerant easy-going friendship of Blaze and Riqi to become a battle of beliefs and cultures, not just a battle of the MC’s. Kim Hardy, who plays Riqi, performed a spellbinding monologue over a bangra beat about discovering the comforts of the mosque after an argument with Blaze, providing the audience with a modern argument for the appeal of religion as a worldwide ‘crew’. Ambur Zhan, who plays Zahida, gives a convincing performance of the atheist view on the world. Whilst Ashley J created a boisterous display of masculine pride and bravado in his characterisation of Blaze which only allowed for moments of humanity to creep through his outer shell when alone.

Instead of conversation we are given a progression of raps and banter between the characters, which often seemed to be a modern version of storytelling – gripping the audience with their ‘spits’. The entire production is aurally and visually stunning; I was captivated by the physical performances of Blaze and Riqi particularly during the body-popping dance sections where they performed everyday actions in a robotic style. Their physical control was evident throughout and the choreography was impeccable.

Within this one hour production Fin Kennedy has managed to create complex, ‘real’ identities for the three
characters and you cannot help but care about their life choices. The stereotypes are there but only because the stereotypes are available in real life, East End teenagers also have the choice to fall into the stereotype and become part of the gun or knife culture. Interestingly, the weapons used on stage are made of clear Perspex to indicate that they have a neutral status – a knife doesn’t perform an action, it is the hand that holds it that stabs someone. The message of the play is the importance of choice and personal action: no one religion is given the upper hand in the play’s representation nor are the actions of the teenagers damned. But rather all of these are left to the audience as blank as the Perspex, in order for us to choose our own interpretation of right and wrong. Push your boundaries: go and see a hip-hop drama as good as this and you just might surprise yourself.
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