The monstrous sound of our era
Six young talented beatboxers from the BAC Beatbox Academy take the stage of the newly re-opened Grand Hall with their grimey, urban take on Frankenstein.
Sei talentuosi giovani artisti della BAC Beatbox Academy, diretti da Conrad Murray e David Cumming, affrontano il testo sacro della narrative gotica a colpi di rap. Sul palco maestoso e decadente del Grand Hall – al Battersea Arts Centre di Londra – Frankenstein prende forma senza altro strumento che la voce umana. Un viaggio vocale che toglie il fiato sui mostri del nostro tempo.
A few moments before the start of Frankenstein: How To Make a Monster, dozens of flickering pendant bulbs is all that is visible. Under Sherry Coenen’s smoky lighting we can barely see the stage, with six black speakers being the only props. If you have ever had the chance to enter the newly re-opened Grand Hall, you are likely to imagine how fascinating an urban scene can feel into that decadent, dreamlike setting. Six young performers in grey hoodies spring out of the gloom and start their mesmerising soundscape.
The show approaches Mary Shelley’s narrative its own way: a different song is performed as each body part of the monster is mentioned. The cast vocally create the monster piece by piece, limb by limb, organ by organ, until it comes to a complex, impressive mash-up.
The young company is keen to question who or what our monsters are. Mary Shelley’s themes of genius, creation and uncontrolled ambition seem to be urgent in a time where scientific ethics are blurred. The young performers explore Shelley’s concerns from their own perspective which makes the performance alive and authentic. As co-director David Cummings notices: «Shelley was only 18 when she wrote Frankenstein and yet her Gothic novel (a relatively new medium at the time) brims with some of the most politically, scientifically and philosophically revolutionary ideas of her time. So why not give today’s youth the chance to do the same, using their own culture’s art-form in ways it hasn’t been used before?». Placed in an urban youthful and diverse London context, the modern monsters become our own addiction of social media, the pressure to conform, the condemnation of physical uniqueness.
The ingenious and soulful use of sound is what takes us in a mesmerising journey into the obscure side of modern life. There is no backing track, no instruments. The cast produce intricate drum patterns, haunting vocals and growling basslines that seem physically impossible, leaving the audience in awe of how such an astonishing array of sounds can be created by human voices. What is most surprising is the ability of the young cast members to bring their own style while working in complete harmony. The listener is perfectly able to enter the different personal journeys of the performers, and at the same time it all feels like a single chant.
What’s significant of this performance, besides its execution, is the basic idea of bringing beatboxing – and the hip hop culture – onstage. As co-director Murray says, the lingering tension between what might be called “serious art” vs. rap might make it difficult for a young group of rappers to be taken seriously and to have a place in “proper theatre”.
However, Murray’s intent is clear: «We want more hip hop on stage; we want more beatboxing on stage – that’s part of my vision. It’s the lexicon that I use – those are my tools». No matter where you are from and what you have been through, either the lyrics, the music, the rap, the message, have the potential to speak to everyone.
Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster has been staged at:
Battersea Arts Centre
Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN
from Tue 12 to Fri 29 March, h. 8.30 pm
Battersea Arts Centre and BAC Beatbox Academy present:
Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster
devisers and performers: Aminita (Aminita Francis), Glitch (Nadine Rose Johnson), Wiz-Rd, (Tyler Worthington), Native (Nathaniel Forder-Staple), ABH (ABH Beatbox), Grove (Beth Griffin)
co-directors: Conrad Murray & David Cumming
lighting designer: Sherry Coenen
production manager and re-lighter: Michael Cunningham
original producer (for BAC): Lara Taylor
producer (for BAC): Rosie Scudder
producing coordinators: Nassy Konan and Fiona Sowole