Theatre review: Hopelessly Devoted - The Door, Birmingham Repertory
The third play from south London poet/rapper/songwriter/playwright Kate Tempest – who manages to excel in all of those slash-categories – tells the story of two young women in prison, one of whom finds herself through making music. Such a premise needs someone with Tempest's ear for a rhythm and a tune, and no-bullshit, straight-up writing style, to save it from schmaltzy territory. At times Hopelessly Devoted is still a little over-simplistic in its surface-skimming exploration of why its characters are in prison and the challenges they face; it is occasionally epigrammatic and there are unlikely plot developments.
But the performances are bouncily engaging, there's very real, very natural humour delivered with a feather-light touch, and – crucially – the songs and raps are good in their own right and extremely well performed.
Tempest is following her own very tough act here; her last self-performed play/spoken word piece Brand New Ancients was blow-everything-else-out-of-the-water brilliant, in any category (it tellingly won both a Fringe First award for theatre and the Ted Hughes prize for poetry). It may simply be that she can perform her blend of righteous anger and heartfelt emotion without it cloying, but given to others, it sounds more stilted.
Nevertheless, there's much to admire in James Grieve's production.
Amanda Wilkin as Chess, the aspiring musician, delivers a convincingly defensive, hackles-up attitude when beginning the song-writing course; the default cynicism and even bleaker assumption that she doesn't deserve to be good at anything ring true (Tempest wrote Hopelessly Devoted after working on another show in Holloway prison this year).
But it has plenty of feel-good moments too: Chess's interactions with her cellmate Serena (an also appealing Gbemisola Ikumelo) reveal a first for both women: a relationship of deep trust and love, nicely caught by Tempest's dialogue – as well as in some enjoyably daffy, spirit-raising song-and-dances round their cell. Both have beltingly good voices, too.
The design – white lighting outlining a square on the floor, that characters in prison cannot breach – is simple but effective; certain scrappy, repetitive movement sequences, also presumably aiming to convey confinement, are less so. Another thing the play succeeds in is dramatising the creative process: Chess's reaching for rhythms and struggling for rhymes is deftly staged, surpassing the usual writer’s block clichés, even if the overarching theme of musical talent transcending all hardships is less fresh.
On tour across the Midlands till 25 Oct; painesplough.com
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 North Korean prison officers 'cooked prisoner's baby and fed it to their dogs', more horrific accounts from UN report reveal
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Mayor says there should be 'no comparison' to Ferguson
- 4 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 5 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Secret Cinema showed The Great Dictator at protest secret screening, following Sony's The Interview cancellation
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Angelina Jolie 'didn't eat much' in sympathy with actors who had to lose weight for Unbroken
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga