Tag Archives: Corey Campbell

Beat box and Bicycles


Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, 13th February, 2020


Alex Wheatle’s popular YA novel is brought to vibrant life in this irresistible adaptation by Emteaz Hussain.  The story charts the events of a single night as a group of friends set off on a quest into enemy territory to right a serious wrong.  Basically Venetia (‘V’) needs to reclaim her smartphone from her ex-boyfriend because its photo album contains some extremely intimate pictures of her.  The ex lives in ‘Notre Dame’ where other gangs, like the nasty Hunchbackers hold sway.  As if that were not enough, the friends have to avoid the villainous Festus – luckily he is easily distinguished by the bandage around his head.  And so, the ‘Magnificent Six’ embark on their mission and on the 159 bus.

The play reminds me of several things: Homer’s Odyssey, The Warriors, Stand By Me, Ostrich Boys- even The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as the friends encounter peril after peril at each stage of their journey.  The witty use of urban slang brings to mind A Clockwork Orange.  One of the key joys of this piece is its language; utterly current and streetwise – I’m sure the younger members of the audience got it more than I did.

What sets this show apart is that it’s a beatbox musical – two words almost guaranteed to put me off, but no, I find this to be sophisticated, stylish stuff as the cast, using only their vocal abilities, create all the music live, before our very ears. There are harmonies, percussive beats, melodic accompaniments… The original songs by composer Conrad Murray are tuneful; the entire score is a varied palette, and it is all performed flawlessly by this extremely talented ensemble.

Aimee Powell leads the singing as V, with a sweetly soulful voice, while others provide raps: Zak Douglas’s lovesick Bit and Nigar Yeva’s plucky Saira perform with commitment and intensity to the rasping beats of Khal Shaw’s sometimes hysterical Jonah.  Kate Donnachie’s oddball, bike-riding Bushkid, the quirkiest member of the squad, also has a rich singing voice that soars above the rhythm.

As I say, they’re a talented bunch, with the moves to match but for me the star turn comes from Olisa Odele as wannabe chef McKay, who sings, raps, moves and acts like a young and tubbier Todrick Hall.  Corey Campbell impresses as McKay’s troubled big brother Nesta, while Simi Egbejumi-David’s Festus is suitably menacing and nasty.

The fights, directed by Roger Bartlett are well, almost gracefully, choreographed.  The action scenes sometimes have a cartoony aspect for comic effect.  Co-directors Corey Campbell and Esther Richardson draw upon the actors’ skills at slow-motion and physical theatre to enhance the storytelling.  It all adds up to a highly effective staging of an engaging story with likeable characters and beautiful music.

Although this is aimed largely at a teen audience, there is plenty for everyone else to enjoy, in the telling and in what is being told.  Gangsters are so often glamorised in popular culture; this play confronts that image with stark reminders of the harsh realities of lives lost or blighted by these carryings-on.  There are other nobler, more honourable ways to live.  The Magnificent Six show that kids can gang together for positive outcomes.

An uplifting, impressive show that delivers its social commentary with humour and a lot of heart.

Aimee Powell, Nigar Yeva, Olisa Odele & Kate Donnachie - photo credit Robert Day

Aimee Powell, Nigar Yeva, Olisa Odele & Kate Donnachie (Photo: Robert Day)

Storms and Teacups


A E Harris Building, Birmingham, Friday 19th July, 2013

An old man in a nursing home reminisces about the past.  He is visited by his daughter but is paranoid that members of staff are out to get him and has dreams, tortured collages of memories.  He even has an imaginary friend with whom he mocks other inmates.

What is remarkable about Hotel Teatro’s telling of this tale is that in this piece, characters only speak lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.   Director Daniel Tyler has dismantled the original play and cut-and-pasted dialogue and phrases to fit this new narrative.  For the most part, it works very well but I found myself forever pulled out of my engagement with the action as I worked out which character originally said which line and in what context.

The company of five actors are a skilled bunch, some of them more at ease with the language than others.  Corey Campbell is excellent as the Carer, keeping a naturalistic tone as he tends to old Prospero, and adopting a more dramatic attitude when he comes over all Caliban-like in the old man’s paranoid fantasies.  Alice Coles is also very strong as dutiful daughter Miranda, visiting her old dad.  She reminds me of a young Jane Asher.  She doubles up as her own mother in a couple of memory sequences: we see how Prospero met and married his wife and also, later on, how he lost her.  It’s like the first ten minutes of Disney’s Up.

The ‘real-life’ scenes are interspersed with some effective movement sequences, directed by Christopher Worrell, with Prospero conjuring up these images by twisting his blanket or brandishing his staff (well, a walking stick!).  Worrell also appears as imaginary friend Ariel, a graceful, other-worldly presence.   James MacNaughton offers solid support as a ‘Patient’ and also a Trinculo-like figure, a rowdy cook who slips Prospero swigs from his hip flask every now and then. Andy Brownlie’s Prospero is a likeable old soul – reminiscing over a photograph album, he takes out a picture of his late wife, “How sharp the sting of this remembrance is!” he says, in one of the piece’s simpler and more touching moments.

Ultimately, the play comes across as more clever than it is powerful.  The ensemble works very well with very little in the way of staging.  Excellent sound design from John Roddy creates the atmosphere of the naturalistic scenes as well as the stylised sequences, proving the low-budget, plastic chair theatre can be richer in ideas and execution than shows privileged to have bigger budgets.

I would have liked to see more extremes in old Prospero: his anger, his confusion, his sentimentality, all need sharper contrasts – the unpredictability of the moods of the elderly can be alarming and heartbreaking, and perhaps I would have been drawn deeper into his plight and away from my own compulsion to identify the provenance of every line they said.