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Review: Ghost Boy at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre

For hip hop theatre as raw as it is real, Ghost Boy is the option for a bit of gritty realness.

Words: David Barros

Photos: Robert Day

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Having gone through a few rewrites before reaching London's Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Ghost Boy had ironed out the creases of its hip hop theatre production to present a well-shaped finished product.


Set to a basic 'bridge' stage which doubled up as a projector screen, Ghost Boy's set is as simple as the play is to the point - after the introduction credits Jamal swaggers on stage to announce that yes, there will be swearing, yes there will be use of drugs, and yes - pulling down his tracksuit bottoms - there may be nudity.


Ghost Boy tells the story of Jamal, a streetwise, cocky rudeboy from the fictional Lemonade Estate, and Michael, a quiet individual who keeps to himself and loves to draw. He escapes into his fantasy world of Biro illustrations to escape the people who bully him for being privileged - one of them Jamal.



After an incident two years ago, Jamal (Tachia Newall) becomes haunted by a creepy figure, Ghost Boy, who lurks around in his consciousness watching his every move.


Jamal meets Dennis (Everal A Walsh), a community do-gooder who has to serve community service on Jamal’s territory, a run down spot underneath a bridge. You didn’t misread that - Dennis was sentenced by a local magistrate after getting arrested dressed as his alter ego, Fly Man!


The two start off clashing with each other at the start as younger generation meets older generation, disruptiveness clashes with authority, but soon they start to find mutual ground, and things seem well. But even Dennis has his own past as he reminisces about his son who he never sees.


Ghost Boy is touching as it explores the relationships of how frustrated teenagers deal with not having figures of authority, but its approach is also funny and sincere. Breaking off from the action, Jamal and Dennis take time to narrate their stories to the audience and ponder aloud. You don’t notice time passing by as the two talk about how they see things from their perspective.

Themed around Ghost Boy’s love of sketching, the fittings to the set and the puppets are all hand painted to give them a surreal comic book effect (see photo, left) designed by street artist Sofiski.


Even Jamal’s friends are two-dimensional cartoon puppets to keep the cartoon theme consistent, vocalised by grunts from Hobbit.


Simplicity and small detail is what gives Ghost Boy its appeal - minus the lighting and stage technicians there are five people present in the cast. Meanwhile, just off stage Hannah Marshall plays cello and Hobbit provides sound effects and rhythm and double up as puppeteers.


Music plays an interesting role in Ghost Boy as there is no pre-recorded soundtrack - all are provided by Marshall and Hobbit, whether Marshall is playing an accompanying melody to Hobbits beatboxed drum loop, or the sound of a car engine igniting.


Looping pedals by the musician's feet help to build up gradual musical compositions and continue the music when they have to run backstage and set up the next stage prop.

All of this is so well choreographed that scene changes and music continuation happen seamlessly, and credit has to be given for having it marked to a tee.


There are also a few musical numbers throughout, proper songs with sung and rapped verses, even a surprise comedy number. All of the acting is on point.


Ghost Boy is an outstanding example of how something can be taken from an organic idea to create a well-rounded, well acted and well produced script and take so many elements - hip hop theatre, live music, puppetry - and make it appealing, both to younger audiences and adults who aren’t offended by a bit of bad language.


Future Ghost Boy tour dates:

Ghost Boy is at Leicester Curve, 13 - 17 April at 7.45pm

Everyman Liverpool the week after 20 - 24 April at 7.30pm

Ghost Boy cast:

Jamal - Tachia Newall - Jamal

Dennis - Everal A. Walsh

Michael (Ghost Boy) - Courtney Hayles

Beatboxer - Hobbit

Cellist/Puppeteer - Hannah Marshall


Writer and director:

Keith Saha



Jo Pocock and Sofiski


Related links:

Ghost Boy Flickr

20 Stories High




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