BWW Review: POET IN DA CORNER, Royal Court
"Grime changed my life, more than my two first class degrees, it gave me permission." Debris Stevenson is back at the Royal Court with a limited of her grime theatre show Poet in da Corner, prior to a UK tour. Inspired by the acclaimed breakthrough album from her idol Dizzee Rascal (Boy in da Corner), it charts Stevenson's journey from dyslexic teen trapped in a Mormon household to independent and self-aware woman; this is a story told from the heart, in the best way she knows how.
Until her best friend SS Vyper gave her a copy of that album, Debris wasn't quite sure where her life was headed. The strict upbringing enforced by her mother affected her mentally, meaning she had trouble letting go and discovering who she could be - she couldn't follow her older brother forever, and the bullying at school was starting to get on top of her. As she listens, it's clear something has been unlocked in her and she realises this could be the perfect way for her to express herself.
There are several things that are absolutely brilliant about this production. Firstly, that it has given Stevenson an outlet to express herself without compromising her identity, giving her freedom to explore all the possibilities that theatre can offer. In turn, playing with form and medium will open the audience's eyes to what theatre can be; the atmosphere on press night was electric, and more akin to a gig than a show - you could feel how engaged everyone was as soon as the music started blasting.
It also creates a very welcoming environment. There is a danger, particularly when music is involved, that people in the audience can feel isolated if it's not something they're familiar with - especially if it seems as though everyone around them is in on the joke. However, the show is a canny combination of the music that it chooses to celebrate, brief snippets of the movement's history, and a great big dollop of humour. It's naturally funny, and you leave the auditorium feeling as though you've been part of something.
You can sense Stevenson's passion for grime and how personal it is for her; this is infectious and something everyone should be able to identify with - the moment you click with an artist or genre of music is a fairly universal experience, and one to which you can absolutely relate in this show. It also allows you to address your own attitude towards grime and its proponents; instead of belittling it like Michael Gove in the run-up to the recent general election, it opens your eyes to what this art form can be used for.
Stevenson is joined by Jammz, Stacy Abalogun, and Kirubel Belay. The four of them put in incredibly energetic performances, jumping between verbal sparring and physical theatre - under Ola Ince's direction a vibrant, hard-hitting, entertaining show springs to life, and pulses with creativity. Jammz's performance is particularly memorable, from Vyper's unexpected appearance to his battles with Debris.
This is not theatre as you know it - this is the future of self-expression.
Picture credit: Helen Murray