Pod Deco / Aurora Nova at St Stephen's / Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh
August, 2004
*** / **** / ****

Although it's two years since Shakespearean rap show The Bomb-Itty Of Errors took the Edinburgh Fringe by storm, only in 2004 have hip-hop music and culture made a significant showing here in non-patronising ways. Canadians Jerome Saibil and Eli Batalion, alias MC Abel and MC Cain, have relocated the biblical story of Job at boardroom level in a hip-hop record company. As Job Lowe (Joe Blow, geddit?) loses his pension, share options and even his job, he is eventually tempted to curse his boss J Hoover (geddit that time?). The rhymes are sharp and the performances versatile and energetic, though battalion in particular has a tendency to slip away from the beat a little, not riding it so much as being swept along by it.

German company Renegade take the Bomb-Itty route: Rumble is a version of Romeo And Juliet, though a very fluid one. The lovers only meet two-thirds of the way into the 75-minute piece, and pretty much everything after the murders of Mercutio and Tybalt is compressed into two solo suicide dance sequences. Being principally a dance piece set amongst contemporary urban gangs, it feels in fact more like West Side Story than the Bard's original. Narrative isn't really its strong point, but the breakdancing, mask work and physical dimension in general are first-rate, and the staging (using a couple of revolving scaffolding galleries with screens on which video projections emphasise the street locations) delightfully inventive.

Scottish company Grid Iron are best known for site-specific pieces, but Fierce sees them in an ordinary theatre space, albeit with an extraordinary show. It's the story of teenager Finlay (a deeply affecting performance from Mark Arends), slightly simple in the head but graphically a savant. He falls in with a crew on the Edinburgh housing estate where he lives, and enthuses them with his ambitions to graffiti-tag his way to monumental fame; but they fall foul of an opposing gang, and... well, it's no surprise that things don't end altogether well. Still and moving video projections are once again used, and the story is principally told through an astounding set of songs and raps composed by Philip Pinsky.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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