A stage full of grime for a new audience

Urban music has grown up and is now going into the theatre. Matilda Egere-Cooper hails the opening of a gritty show

When grime music first crackled out of the corners of |east London in the early Noughties, it was considered the rebellious antidote to UK garage’s rapid popularity and demise. Led by gangs of hoodies trading their horror stories of growing up in the inner city, it was intimidating but experimental and was theatrical at its core – elements that would inspire the production of 8sixteen32, a grime theatre show that, having been five years in the making, is set to tour the UK.

While the feasibility of urban theatre in this country has been tested through Jonzi D’s hip-hop theatre campaigns in the early Nineties, and later, the crossover success of Zoo Nation’s Into the Hoods in the West End, and Boy Blue Entertainment’s Pied Piper at the Barbican, grime theatre has chosen to be less about commercialised song-and-dance for an X Factor-generation, and more about delivering the authentic story of a scene which yearns to be understood.

One of the show’s cast members, RTKal, 20, explains. “People don’t see the vulnerability of grime,” he says. “They just see it as this aggressive thing. We’re just normal people that go through really normal things.”

The significance of this new kind of theatre lies in the style: the cast are all artists with their own budding careers, and the comical narrative is rapped in the speedy, 8/16/32 bars and rhythm structure unique to the genre, hence the title. The story itself revolves around four friends who all have aspirations to make a name for themselves as the next big MC – but when the opportunity arises for them to enter a competition to win the ultimate MC’s mobile phone (complete with studio and recording apps), their relationship is put to the test, while the real agenda of the phone company comes to light.

Despite being conceived five years ago, the story is a timely reflection of how grime artists have advanced in the music industry. “It’s quite interesting in that a lot of the original MCs from the heyday of grime are now big pop stars,” points out Charlie Dark, the show’s artistic director. “So if anything, I think 8sixteen32 is a document of how the scene was and how far it’s come.”

When it was commissioned, as a series of writing workshops by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the initial project saw at least 40 MCs turn up. But after a period which tested each participant’s ability and commitment, this was eventually whittled down to a quartet – Professor D (Auden Allen Jr), LCB (Leon Burke), RTKal (Joshua Holness), and Evoke (Shaun Welch) – a charismatic and energetic group who came to be known as the Decypher Collective.

In 2007, Birmingham-born hip-hop and spoken-word artist Polar Bear (Steven Camden) and director Leo Kay were drafted in to give the production its finishing touches, while breakbeat producer Mark De Clive-Lowe provided the music. An early version of the show appeared at The Rep in 2008, and more recently, it wowed crowds at the Latititude festival in Suffolk – suggesting there could be real potential in grime theatre connecting with the masses, even if the music in its purest form is still yet to penetrate the mainstream.

But De Clive-Lowe reckons the show will appeal to both ends of the spectrum. “For people who feel like urban UK music is too alien, it gives them another angle to appreciate it from as well as some real-life story to relate to it through,” he says. “And for people who find theatre to be too dusty and old school, but love their club music, it gives them a reason to get into the medium of theatre and stage. And it’s the best of both worlds – the music facilitates the storytelling and the storytelling facilitates the music.”

‘8sixteen32’ tours the UK until 28 October ( www.8sixteen32.com)

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam