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30th October 2019

Review: Zoonation’s Some Like it Hip Hop

Cara Conte reviews Zoonation’s Olivier Award-nominated Some Like it Hip Hop
Review: Zoonation’s Some Like it Hip Hop
Photo: Simon Prince.

Zoonation’s Olivier Award-nominated Some Like it Hip-Hop puts a uniquely modern spin on the classic film Some Like it Hot and Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night. In this all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza, women won’t take no for an answer, and the men get more than they bargained for in the form of defiance, resilience, and determination.

The story is told entirely through song and dance, with little narration, guaranteeing two hours of unadulterated, foot-tapping entertainment. The antagonist of this spectacular sung-through narrative dance, the widowed Governor, is so engulfed by grief that he blocks out the sun, burns all the books in the city and makes women subservient to men to keep his people compliant, redefining his city under totalitarian rule.

Jojo and Kerri, the female leads, are discovered reading and are exiled from the city. Forced to return in disguise as ‘Joe’ and ‘David’, they prove that hard work, charisma, and wisdom know no gender boundaries.

The opening scene sees the male characters engaging in a dark (literally pitch black – with only single spotlights efficaciously illuminating the men in turn), sinister breakdance number. The Governor dances in unison behind them one by one, which is clearly intended to be metaphorical of the dictatorship under which the city will now be run. The men dance like puppets, and this sets the tone beautifully for a story of sin and strife.

After being banished from the city for reading a book, Jojo and Kerri go incognito and pass a series of tests in pursuit of regaining access to the city to work among their male counterparts. ‘Joe’ and ‘David’ turn out to be better men than most of the men, winning sparring contests and thriving in a Man’s World – with no need for a woman.

While the audience is shown the ongoing cruel and illiberal mistreatment of the female servants in the workplace, Joe (Jojo) strikes up a dubious bond with rule-breaker Simeon, the only man in the city brave enough to read, and reveals her true identity to him.

The scene that stood out most to me is the one which sees Simeon ask his fellow men how he should go about impressing a love-interest, and is told the ‘rules of seduction’. These include buying her a gift (a hoover) and avoiding any attempts to engage in conversation beyond her capability (such as politics and accounting) – do I smell a stereotype? This mimicking of Victorian-esque attitudes to etiquette and conjugal roles elicited a mixture of audience laughter and boos – the irony of the whole scene being personified by the very presence of the lady Simeon wants to impress, dressed, and very successfully posing, as a man!

Of course, anarchy ensues, and this musical tale of revolution and female empowerment leaves the audience on a high, desperate for more.

The set-design was sombre and simple – the use of lighting created an impeccable sense of tyranny and oppression. A scene depicting the male workers’ sleeping conditions showed only a thin sheet separating the citizens from the eyes of their oppressors – the sheet lit up blood red, nicely befitting the aura of dystopia.

A later scene saw the Governor’s inner turmoil conveyed through a solo dance; the impeccable staging and lighting projected an unnervingly big shadow behind him. It alluded to him as a domineering figure whilst amplifying the internal conflict and struggle being experienced by him, as he contemplates his morals, principles, and the authoritative mad-man he has become. Both the set and the mood onstage lifted boasted exuberance and optimism once the cathartic resolution of the story unfolded.

What this show-stopping extravaganza all comes down to though is the sheer excellence of the dance-numbers and the music that carry the weight of communicating a story with no dialogue. Hip-hop is an athletic yet evocative medium, which Kate Prince (director and choreographer, alongside Tommy Franzen and Carrie-Anne Ingrouille) exploits to a remarkable degree.

This show is one back-flip away from an Olympic gold medal; with an all-star cast including Tommy Franzen (So You Think You Can Dance, Blaze, Goldberg), Lizzie Gough (So You Think You Can Dance, Blaze) and Jade Hackett (Blaze, Into da Hoodz: Remixed, Sylvia, Nine Night), it’s hardly surprising.

The music (Josh Cohen and DJ Walde) is not limited to hip-hop; the show exhibits a delightful blend of Motown, blues, Prince, and even some folk. It was so good that before the curtain went down, I’d already downloaded the soundtrack! The original, eclectic soundtrack beautifully complements the diverse cast. When faced with adversity in a city situated outside of any obvious real-life epoch or geographical location, these characters bring to life a boundless story of rebellion and optimism that is timeless.

The audience lapped up every second of this (eventually) feel-good musical, and with the cast not letting us go home without joining them in one final song and dance, all I can say is that this show made every other theatre experience I’ve had seem nothing short of boring.

Some Like it Hip Hop continues its UK tour into November.

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