I’m a bit out of my depth when it comes to hip-hop culture and beatboxing. But when UK champion beatboxer Hobbit opens 20 Stories High latest production with an astonishing display of his talent, you know you’re in for something just that little bit different. And what follows is one of the most consistently entertaining, unique and special plays I’ve seen in a long time.
15-year old Melody arrives at the latest in a string of dead-end care homes, separated from her younger sister Harmony. Best friend Rizla deals drugs to youngsters on the pier, and new arrival Blessing causes no end of trouble for Melody. With a grim determination to make something of herself, her world spirals out of control when she hears Harmony is up for adoption. With its blend of hip-hop, dance, physical performance and puppetry, Melody Loses Her Mojo pulls out all the stops to tell a captivating story.
20 Stories High aim to create dynamic and challenging theatre and they’re talking a risk with the narrative structure of Melody Loses Her Mojo – but the disparate and clashing elements have been carefully crafted by writer and director Keith Saha into an unexpectedly joyous narrative. Be it the image of a childrens backpack coming to life or the dance interpretation of a fight scene, Melody Loses Her Mojo is constantly surprising.
Perhaps the key to Melody Loses Her Mojo’s success is the animation of Melody’s otherwise innocuous bag, Mojo. A fusion of sound and human operation brings Mojo to life, animated such as he is by two operators (who also double up in roles as Melody’s social workers). The actors and operators succeed in investing much of the audience’s attention in Mojo, giving him a distinct and likeable character with a surprising amount of depth – especially as he never orally speaks but his bemused expression always speaks volumes.
Elsewhere there are inspired innovations that raise the bar on what could otherwise be flat sequences. A scene telling of Harmony’s adoption sees a intimate spotlit two hander erupts into a cacophony of noise – the two actors amplifying their voices through microphones as the stage burns red with Melody’s anger. The net result is a more abstract, respectable and almost personal conveying of Melody’s volatile temper.
Remmie Milner is astonishing as Melody. Milner gives a confident and blazingly ferocious portrayal. A joy to watch on stage, she dominates proceedings with a fractured and likeable portrayal. Elsewhere, Darren Kuppan endears himself to the audience, and brilliantly turns his shady character into a sympathetic wretch.
Melody Loses Her Mojo is an extraordinary fusion of styles. Saha’s free flowing direction makes the mash of styles work. Against the odds, Hannah Marshall’s haunting tones on cello are enhanced by Hobbit’s beatboxing. The story ends defiantly and triumphantly, almost with a punch in the air against traditional storytelling. It might look to reflect the experiences of many children locked into situations like Melody’s, but with its innovative choice of narrative transcends barriers to engage everyone. Rarely have I enjoyed something so creative, with a generous heart and so freshly original.
The Fiction Stroker gives Melody Loses Her Mojo five strokes out of five:
Melody Loses Her Mojo runs till October 5 at Contact before a nationwide tour. More details on the 20 Stories High website.