On paper this did not look promising. Of the glut of musical theatre offerings at this year's Fringe, a hip-hop treatment of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors was surely going to be one of the more painful. In fact, the only painful thing about this unexpectedly stonking show from New York/Chicago ensemble, Bomb-itty International, is that pretty soon you're not going to be able to get a ticket for it.
What began as a student production at a New York university in 1998 quickly became an off-Broadway hit, and British bookings agents with any sense will have this show signed for a West End run sharpish. Disregarding the smart adaptation, this cast of five (four actors playing 16 roles, plus a DJ/beat boxer/composer) are plainly preternaturally gifted performers.
The story begins with a rap about the father of two sets of male twins who is arrested for small-time drug dealing. In desperation, the boys' mother puts them up for adoption, splitting them between two foster homes. Bomb-itty picks up the action 20 years later when the two pairs of twins cross paths again. Just as with a traditional Shakespeare production it takes a while for your ears to tune in to the dense language, so here hip-hop is similarly challenging. Rhymes come thick and fast, and initially this involves aural juggling that demands full concentration. But it quickly becomes clear that if the Bard were born today his rhyming couplets could do no better than to be rapped around a beat box.
And this is no lame excuse to leap about the stage in baggy trousers yelling "Yo mama" (although there is, in parody, a fair bit of that). Instead the dialogue is rich with cross-cultural references that manage simultaneously to reveal an intimate knowledge of a set text, yet never lose their sharp, trainer-clad footing. The response to a closed door during one of the play's many farcical bed-hopping scenes: "The door seems to be locked, I'll give it a beat," cue a bass-distorting break beat and another musical number.
This is a Shakespeare play in which the role of oracle is played by a Jewish jewellery dealer wearing a quilted jacket, Huggy Bear glasses and Hasidic curls, and the apothecary by a Rasta herbalist. And if the show isn't entertaining enough in itself (and you'd have to be pulseless to think so), witness the spontaneous hands-in-the-air appreciation of nice, white middle-class folks trying to look like boys from the 'hood. Forget standing ovations, this play has a dancing one.
Venue 33: 21.30 (1hr 30 mins) until 26 August (not Tuesdays), 0131-556 6550Reuse content