Pied Piper is hip-hop theatre at its most confident. Starting out at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, this production has won an Olivier award, toured Britain, and now returns to the Barbican for a Christmas run. There's no snow or tinsel, but its bold dancing and muscular storytelling make this a cracking Christmas show.
It addresses its audience with complete assurance. From the Piper's teasing, high-handed order to switch mobiles off, right through to the dancing curtain calls, this show knows exactly where it's going.
The story is briskly told by Kenrick "HO" Sandy, co-founder and choreographer of Boy Blue Entertainment, and director/designer Ultz. The rats of Hamelin become the city's threatening hoodies. Headlines scroll past on screens, announcing a crime wave or denouncing the hoodies as "vermin".
Ultz's setting is bleakly urban, with high concrete walls, rubbish bags, wire fencing and graffiti. The music, by Michael "Mikey J" Asante, is urban and atmospheric, with sinister hums and lively beats.
The hoodies themselves are shadowy and anonymous. Dressed in black, with Asbo marked on their clothes, they move together in a seething clump. Soloists step forward for a few walloping moves, then slink back into the crowd. Sandy's choreography sets this crowd against the comic Governors of the city, four suited figures with ungainly mask heads. They prance through twinkling steps, or creep through big comic mime, dithering as they call in the Piper.
The show is clever at finding space for dance setpieces. The first half is dominated by the Piper's CV. We see him, and his team, demonstrating moves: thrusting arm movements, hip- hop twists, a scorpion crouch with one leg lifted high in the air.
Together, they show a whole series of battles with different pests. The black-clad ensemble wear white gloves to represent mosquitoes, hands fluttering and buzzing. Vipers are strutting, seductive women, luring in a victim before robbing him. Best of all, the vampire bats tumble and backflip through the air, soaring and attacking.
Each time, we see the plague in action, then watch the Piper overcome it. The battles are as varied as the opponents, with kung-fu poses, macho face-offs and some nice comic timing. A vampire shows off extravagantly, twisting and kicking, before being biffed with a rubbish bag.
Sandy himself plays the Piper: tall, commanding, with a natural authority. The dancers dive past him to ricochet off the walls, or creep back into submissive poses. At last, the Piper rips a hole in the wall, driving the hoodies not into darkness but into unnervingly bright light on the other side.
The children of Hamelin are played by London schoolchildren, chosen through a dance-education programme.
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