Pros: Crazy glittery costumes, engaging performances and bits of a Shakespeare classic are all in the mix.
Cons: Time management and communication could have been better on the side of the theatre.
Seeing a show at Battersea Arts Centre is always a bit of an adventure; you know it’s going to be interesting, but you can never be quite sure exactly what you’re going to get. This was certainly the case for my evening there last night — all I knew was that it would involve karaoke and hip-hop Hamlet.
My plus-one and I started off with Fire in the Machine, a new show by London youth collective Sounds Like Chaos. The best description I can think of is ‘Japanese TV show meets vaudeville’. An hour’s worth of singing, dancing and glittery insanity; I loved every minute of it. Under the strict leadership of ‘The Machine’, performers entertain us with mime, audience-participatory singing and fashion advice. But behind the bubbly, fluorescent exterior lies something darker; an anxiety about what it means to be(come) an adult in a world of zero-hour contracts, burnouts and FOMO. Despite all its garishness, the result is a show that’s simple and eloquent. The next time you hear a baby boomer complaining about feckless youths, this is where you need to send them.
It’s hard to think of a sharper contrast with that than DenMarked, a solo show by theatre maker and musician Conrad Murray. In just over an hour, Murray takes us through his childhood on the estate, his struggles to fit in at his posh new performing arts school, and the panic attack he’s having about interviewing for a teaching job at an even posher school. Interspersed with these autobiographical scenes are fragments of text from Hamlet as Murray links his own life experiences to those of the Danish prince. Addressing topics like bullying and child abuse, DenMarked does not make for comfortable viewing. Murray inserts plenty of lighthearted touches, however; the audience unanimously roared with laughter when he described how he wants to emulate his heavily tattooed friend Alan, only to reveal a tiny scribble on his upper arm. Between the varieties in tone and the song, performed live with a mix of beatboxing, guitar and some clever looping, there’s more than enough happening to keep the audience involved. The only weakness is the addition of the bits from Hamlet, which are meant to tie the show together; taken out of the context of the play, they often feel misplaced. The similarities between Hamlet’s and Murray’s circumstances are reduced to only the broadest of strokes, such as ‘father’ or ‘madness’, without doing justice to the nuances of either’s situation.
I very much enjoyed both shows, different as they were, although the evening was slightly marred by some organisational issues. The first show started late, which had me stressing out about making it out in time for the second one. In hindsight, this was completely unnecessary since that one started late too. It happens, of course, but I feel that a venue like the BAC should know better than to leave their audiences standing around like that without giving them any information. Nevertheless, the quality of both shows more than made up for this slight hiccup. I would recommend you keep an eye out for these performers; I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of them.
Fire in the Machine
Directors: Gemma Rowan and Roisin Feeny
Devised and Performed By: Sounds Like Chaos
Producer: Jenna Omeltschenko
Booking Information: This show has now finished its run.
Directors: Ria Parry and Laura Keefe
Written and Performed By: Conrad Murray
Box Office: 020 7223 2223
Booking Link: https://www.bac.org.uk/content/42636/whats_on/whats_on/shows/denmarked
Booking Until: 11 March 2017