Last night Paul and I went to see Streets at the Hackney Empire. After a previous run at the much smaller, more intimate Cockpit Theatre (which Paul saw, but I didn’t), yesterday saw just two performances in the Empire’s larger, proscenium arch space.
I’d heard Streets described as a musical, but that carries preconceptions of a particular type of storytelling which don’t apply here. The characters – a group of young people caught up in the all-too-familiar urban London world of drugs, knives, guns and violence – do not sing or dance. Instead, the songs are performed by Ben Cousin and Tori Allen-Martin (who also co-write the book and is a producer on the show), with beatboxing from Pikey Esquire and rap from James Eyres Kenward. Kenward’s the exception to the rule about the actors not performing: his drug-dealing bouncer Skinner is at the dark and twisted heart of the piece, whether ensnaring the addict Rick (a gloriously multi-layered performance from Brandon Henry) into his plans, or being a silent, malevolent Puck, hovering over a police interrogation such that the witness clams up through fear of him.
But amid the violence and the drugs, there are stories with real heart. I was particularly struck by Sian Louise’s Robyn, whose loyalty to boyfriend Rick is tested to beyond the limit, and finds herself drawn to the newcomer who might finally give her the respect she deserves, as well as young couple Max (Thomas Wright) and Lily (Alexandra Da Silva), whose impending baby is spurring them to break out of the cycle that everyone they know finds themselves in.
Coupled with some beautiful dance work, combining street moves with balletic romanticism (full credit to choreographers Ryan Lee Seager and Kamilah Beckles, who also perform, and the full dance ensemble), Streets manaes something quite magical – separating out song, dance and script, but fusing them together to make a cohesive whole.
Tweeting on my way home , I said:
I do feel as if the show is a work in progress – if the show had had more than just two performances in this new incarnation, I’m sure most of the niggles I do have would have been ironed out. I’m delighted to find out that Streets will be returning to Hackney Empire in 2014 for a longer run.
Below, a few short clips: