Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Rebel Cell - SPL, Edinburgh Fringe

The Rebel Cell
Writer: Dizraeli and Baba Brinkman
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: Four Stars

From the producers of ‘Into The Hoods’ comes their politically charged play, ‘The Rebel Cell’. In the dystopian England of 2013 the BNP and BBC have merged and free speech is a thing of the past. Dizraeli, the leader of the revolution, has been captured and jailed, being held at Glastonbury which is now a Guantanamo-esque prison camp. Baba Brinkman, formerly Dizraeli’s partner and now a journalist, is granted an exclusive interview as Dizraeli awaits sentencing, and we are then shown through flashbacks what has happened to bring England, and the characters, to this point.

The Rebel Cell began as a series of debates about freedom, and found its roots when the playwrights realised they had strong opposing views on the best ways to effect change – democratic action versus direct activism. This feeling of passionate disagreement is the backbone of the piece, with the two performers putting their different point of view across to the audience and each other, including challenging each other through rap battles.

Dizraeli is an excellent performer, not just as a rapper which I expected, but also as an actor. He has a charisma and intensity that make him extremely watchable and suits the character to a tee. Baba is quite a different character: Canadian rather than a brit, which presents a nice contrast as he is looking at British society from a different angle and as someone who wasn’t raised here. He is more measured than the passionate, impulsive Dizraeli, and believes that Capitalism has its place and protests should be made through the existig political structures. Baba is also a strong actor, and showed his versatility as he plays a variety of quite distinct characters throughout the show.

This is an engaging and irreverent political comedy which doesn’t hold anything back. It is described as ‘a new kind of hip-hop performance’, and in addition to the fact that the entire play is rapped, there is also excellent use made of an on-stage DJ and a variety of multimedia tools. There are TVs strategically placed around the staging area and they are used alternately as an Orwellian form of CCTV, live events coverage, and for filmic flashbacks. The eloquent lyrics and use and subversion of well-known British institutions such as the BBC and Glastonbury, coupled with references to current concerns like the proliferation of Tesco shops, makes this fiercely current. It is also interactive, with the audience being asked for suggestions for how to change the world, which the performers then rap about, adding a freshness to the show. Enjoyable, challenging theatre that keeps you thinking long after you leave.

Underbelly’s Hullabaloo, 7-31 Aug, 17:30 (18:30), prices vary.
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