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Tearing down the stage curtain the vermin run riot on the stage to the introduction music, snappy movements of the choreography set to the heavily snared music. The backdrop of the stage is a grimy back alley. Look close enough and you’ll spot the Newham council sticker on one of the bins. Only one backdrop is used throughout the performance, and doubles up as a wall for the projected video sequences.

 

The charismatic Pied Piper steps on to the stage. He is approached by the Governers, caricatures in business suits, with the promise of a large sum of money. The show is then a flash back of the Piper’s past jobs, battling vermin throughout the world. This Piper has no pipe, however, instead controlling vermin by imitating them until he has them under his power. Past jobs on his CV include a nest of provocative vipers, leaping crickets and mosquitoes.

 

While watching each act performed you realise the diversity of Kenrick Sandy’s choreography, particularly if studied from a hip hop theatre context. Much of it is taken from oriental influences and from imitating the movement of animals. When the Piper battles the different types of vermin, the choreography matches the style of the animal it portraying. The costume styles remain urban to reflect the theme of the show, not to look like what animal they are, yet the vipers are slow and seductive with smooth movements, rats are twitchy and behave erratically, and there’s a very amusing interpretation on mosquitoes early on using gloves and ultraviolet lights.

Other subtleties include the way formation changes are executed without flaw and excellent use of the canon convention in a fight sequence showing ripples of impact spreading throughout the vermin. Putting narrative to a 90 minute hip hop show based on a poem can’t be easy, and shows how much they thought outside the box to reach out for a non-hip hop audience, although perhaps the Piper’s personality could have been explored more, as I already knew what his role entailed from reading the story as a child?

 

The performance steers clear of using live dialogue, bar a few shouts and exclamations, opting for pre-recorded voice samples instead.

There is a tight bond between the choreography and the music, with Michael Asante’s music productions reflecting the dark tones of the story and the action on stage. It fits so incredibly tight with the dancing, with performers adhering to every single beat of the music, even landing flips precisely on time!

 

Most of the time, Pied Piper is dark and intimidating, the vermin jumping off stage to sneer at the front row of the audience, but a pinch of humour is sprinkled in to lighten up the story and validate it with regular theatregoers.

 

Pied Piper consists of the finest of UK hip hop dancers collectively brought together to tell its story. Having missed it the first time round, it’s clear to see what the big deal was. Satirising how young people are negatively portrayed, it also addresses the fact that all the “vermin” need is discipline and a role model to aspire to, not to be targeted by the tabloids, reflected in the closing acts. Although the closing sequence feels like plug for Boy Blue, the message is fair enough – give the youth something positive to do and they’ll spread the word, helping make the world a positive place.

Thanks to that message, it doesn’t shy away from the gritty reality in place of stereotypes the way Into The Hoods did to capture a mainstream audience, but captures reality and makes you think about what you’ve just seen.

 

The show will be touring the UK after the initial London dates at the Barbican, so be sure to catch the Piper before he leaves your city.

Tour details:

Barbican, London

5-14 March

 

Birmingham Hippodrome

18-21 March

 

Edinburgh Festival Theatre

25-28 March

 

Northern Stage, Newcastle

28 April-2 May

 

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

21-14 June

Kenrick H2O Sandy in Boy Blue's Pied Piper

Related links:

Buy tickets

Boy Blue Ent

Follow the action on the Boy Blue Blog

Wikipedia: the original Pied Piper plot

 

Related stories:

Boy Blue’s Pied Piper review (December)

We’re Excited About... Boy Blue’s Pied Piper and Zoonation’s Into The Hoods

Breakin’ Convention 2009 review

Boy Blue Entertaiment: Pied Piper (Saturday night show) at The Barbican

Contrary to the published photos,

The Piper was played by understudy

Christian Alozie on the night of review

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Words: David Barros

When ‘vermin’ plague your city with crime and fear and you want rid, there’s only one person you should call in – the Pied Piper

 

Hooded and intent on causing trouble these disruptive youth are considered ‘vermin’ by the media. Running out of options, the clueless Governors call in their only hope – the Pied Piper – to rid the city of vermin and restore peace to the streets.

Kenrick H2O Sandy in Boy Blue's Pied Piper
Kenrick checks out the vermin in Pied Piper