Book and Lyrics: Kate Prince
Music: DJ Walde, Josh Cohen
Director: Kate Prince
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
If there’s one thing that marks out the work of choreographer/director Kate Prince and her ZooNation and their narrative hip-hop dance shows, it is the application of different dance styles to illuminate character differences.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with Some It Like Hip-Hop, returning to the West End after first appearing in 2011. Prince’s dystopian fairytale posits a world of 1940s dress codes in an urban city ruled by a despotic Governor (Flawless’s Christian Alozie). Beset by grief at the death of his young wife, the Governor has blocked out the sun, banned all books and introduced a highly segregated workforce where women are restricted to cleaning while the men do the “real work”.
Into this world enter three misfits. Tommy Franzén’s Simeon is a bookworm; Kerri (Jade Hackett) is a woman who refuses to believe she can’t do “man’s” work; Lizzie Gough’s Jo-Jo is both. With the two women disguised as men, the trio join the workforce, and of course hijinks ensue.
As the title suggests, there are influences from Some Like It Hot here, with the gender impersonation roles being flipped. But such storylines go further back, with influences from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and As You Like It also visible.
DJ Walde and Josh Cohen’s music is laden with homages to R&B styles across the generations, from Jackson Five-era Motown to Eighties synth ballads and modern beatboxing. The score combines with Johanna Town’s lighting to provide a backdrop to the full gamut of hip-hop and street dance styles.
Alozie’s hyper-masculine Governor is never better when working behind his henchmen, Prince’s choreography emphasising his role as a puppet master determining every fate of his subordinates. His villainous style is a complete contrast to Franzén’s Simeon, whose joyously loose-limbed precision is the show’s focal performance. Franzén originated the role in Prince’s original 2011 production, and it is hard to imagine anyone else being quite so effortlessly charismatic in the role.
Precision is also the order of the day with the ensemble work. Prince’s cast hit every beat, every choreographer pop and lock in perfect unison, but never allowing that to get in the way of character expression. It’s a genuine thrill to watch, just as it is to see Gough’s Jo-Jo subtly begin to mirror Simeon’s happy-go-lucky style as the pair become closer romantically.
When contrasted with the choreography, most of Prince’s book storytelling verges on the simplistic. There is at least an attempt to use the fairytale’s hyper-sexist setting to provide an alternative to the misogyny that exists in the real world, and in much hip-hop culture in particular. It is not without its problematic elements – stories that rely on the comic potential of characters of one gender posing as their binary opposite only work if heteronormativity is assumed to be a given. But when a factory supervisor makes moves on his female subordinate, the cries of disdain from a young audience that feels no compunction about vocalising their reactions to the show provide a promise that the upcoming generation are heading in the right direction.
Generalised sexual politics aside, there is enough humour and thrilling choreography to propel this story along, even as it runs over two hours. A patchy performance from Dwayne Nosworthy’s MC notwithstanding – brilliant when fully rapping, far less so when narrating in poorly scanning couplets – Some Like It Hip Hop remains a highly enjoyable evening of entertainment, and the perfect example of why ZooNation’s work is so genuinely loved by its audience.
Continues until 9 November 2019 | Image: Contributed