The Harder They Come
Based on the iconic film starring Jimmy Cliff, I must admit I was a bit unsure whether this gritty urban drama would translate effectively on stage. The show had gained residency at the Barbican following a successful stint at Stratford Theatre Royal, and after a series of glowing reviews from my friends and family members I decided to check it out to see what all the fuss is about. In a word - exhilarating. The live band is phenomenal, effortlessly strumming through classic reggae hits from the soundtrack including 'Many Rivers to Cross', 'You Can Get it if You Really Want' and of course, 'The Harder They Come'. Courtesy of the music and energetic performances, a real party atmosphere is created, and it's instantly contagious.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, The Harder They Come is based around the fictional character of Ivan, an ambitious country boy from a rural parish in Jamaica. With dreams of making it big in the city, he relocates to Kingston, but instead of discovering streets paved with gold, he instead faces a daily battle to survive the merciless streets. Conceding to a 'can't beat 'em join 'em' mentality, Ivan forgoes his 'country boy' image to assume a gangster like persona, becoming a local celebrity in the process.
Rolan Bell who plays the lead role of Ivan, is definitely one to watch. I could never fathom anybody stepping into the shoes of the great Jimmy Cliff, but with a mixture of charisma, good looks and talent in abundance, he really nails it. I have a feeling the show is no longer in London but may have gone on to Manchester. Hopefully the successful tenure at Barbican will lead to a West End residency.
P.S. I've just received word that the show will return to the capital for four months at a central London location. Do support the cause, and remember where you heard it first.
Yes, I saw the billboard posters, flyers, and magazine ads etc for Afrika Afrika yet I can't say the idea of sitting down for two hours to watch some double-jointed exhibitionists pounce around on the stage sounded particularly appealing to me. But then I thought, well it's Africa, and we're seldom exposed to positive representations from the Continent, so let me try and represent. However, as time lapsed I kinda put the idea to the back of my mind. Despite the enthusiastic reports from my friends and family members who had seen and loved it, I still shrugged it off and tucked it away in my mental 'to do' list, all the while knowing that the chances of me actually booking tickets were slim to none. But as fate would have it, last week I received an email from the publicist of the show inviting me to come along to celebrate the show's end of residency at the 02. Tactfully, he managed to seal the deal by casually throwing in that they'd be laying on food. "Food?" I asked coyly, trying not to sound to ravenous. Trust me, that was all I needed to hear - I was there in a flash. When we arrived at the 02 tents where the show takes place, the area was transformed into a African village of sorts, with low lighting, Moroccan style jewel encrusted cushions and opulent lanterns.
The performance commenced shortly after 3pm with a male contortionist twisting and converting his body into some 'see it to believe it' styles and shapes. At some points during his act I had to turn my head, wincing at what I concluded could only be unbearable pain. I also gasped loudly on several occasions through fear of someone taking an almighty drop (at one point I'm sure there was a human ladder consisting of at least ten men). But over the course of the show you become accustomed to seeing the inconceivable, and become somewhat desensitized to all that you see. The repertoire is sliced into various acts consisting of contortionists, gymnasts, juggling acts, basketball players and tap dancers. A live band accompanies the action on stage, bedazzling audience members with a funky concoction of high-life, jazz, funk and soul. At two and a half hours long I assumed I'd be bored by the closing number. Thankfully I wasn't. So on curtain call when the words projected against the backdrop of the 02 tents read: 'May Your Hearts Be filled with Joy'. On a grey Sunday evening when ordinarily I'd be plagued by Pre-Monday blues. I silently respond: 'It is indeed'.
Into the Hoods
'Into the Hoods' is yet another production that I slept on. I mean, street dance theatre? How unbelievably Graham Norton 'Strictly Dance Fever'. I truly didn't think this show would appeal to anyone over the age of 21, so hesitantly headed for the Novello theatre, Covent Garden on a quiet Monday evening. After exiting the tube station, I lost my bearings and as a consequence didn't arrive at the theatre until a good 15 minutes into the performance. Based on the classic James Lapine book, 'Into the Woods', the noughties adaptation transports the narrative to a urban inner city housing estate environment. When two adventurous kids run away from their family home for a taste of freedom, they are accosted by an opportunistic landlord who uses them to to steal from unsuspecting victims. Soon enough the children become embroiled in ghetto life, adapting to the lifestyles of those around them.
Throughout the show there is no dialogue from the performers on stage, instead a narrator guides the audience through the action. To be honest this is perfectly fine, because the plot is secondary to the dance performances. Set against a soundtrack that runs the gamut of pop and R&B tracks over the last thirty years, the show unleashes an endless musical assault from iconic superstars such as Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Prince and Jennifer Lopez. How the dancers manage to remember the intricate choreography is beyond me. But the youthful, jiggy, leg-warmer wearing body shakers bounce, flip and body-pop their little hearts out. They are soooooo good. So remarkably good in fact that by the closing number I find myself on my feet clapping enthusiastically like some proud parent. Good job!