At his ‘thank you to you myriad muses for my MBE‘ party in January, Rikki Beadle-Blair, that beloved actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, singer, designer, choreographer, dancer, songwriter and artistic director of multi-media production company Team Angelica, broke down his next few projects for us. It was an exciting list, as it was clear he would be exercising many of his multiple talents.
Lynette Linton’s #Hashtag Lightie was first, and opened to a packed house and critical acclaim during its 5-day run at the Arcola Theatre. Between writer Linton and director Beadle-Blair, we were presented with “a funny and moving play with timeless themes of identity and belonging that screams ‘Right Now’, as promised by the man himself.
Next, came the wonderful piece of dramatic musical theatre we were treated to for just two days over this middle March weekend – the flamboyantly titled Legendary Children In The House Of Fierce. This is a fantastical musical fantasy (yes, I meant to say that) from the mind of the People’s Maestro.
Beginning with a pulsating dance number performed by the whole company, the opening sequence starts slow and soon crescendos, the driving beat accompanied by hip hop-inspired moves, singing from co-creators Raymi Sambo and Beadle-Blair, and rapping from Kane Surry. This explosion of passion hinted at the rollercoaster ride of the lives we were about to witness.
Set against the looming social spectre cast by the Vogueing Balls of late 80s/90s New York, an urban family of fabulously flawed LGBTQ New Yorkers anticipate Walking in the dance floor Vogueing competition. Papa Obey (Sambo) and ‘brothers’ Principé (Lewis Brown), Valvirago (Surry) and Yasbos (André Dongelmans), practice their routine and bicker with spitfire-quick insults and insolent exchanges in costumes of boots, fishnet tights, glitter and very little else (Beadle-Blair already confessed to being particularly proud of the costumes). As dictated by the Vogue Ball etiquette of donning a persona completely different from your own, Papa has chosen ‘masculine street boy realness‘, and the brothers fall into line.
Soon, we meet the newest family member – new ‘little brother’ Mascerade with a ‘c’ (Jonny Cox-Vinells), spotted by Papa to join the family and who proves his worthiness by performing a wonderful history of Vogue Balls to a beat with some scratching thrown in. It was the ultimate escapist high for the disenchanted, alienated, violated and homeless mainly African-American LGBTQ communities of Harlem, New York. Another revelation of the family’s situation, and suggests that we are seeing a version of what may really be happening and that, with different eyes, these scenes would look very different.
Later, we meet the two estranged members – little sis Liberata (Ritza Statia) and Mama True Say (Beadle-Blair) as the first bit of magic creeps in. Like an urban myth, Mama True Say appears after someone invokes her name. Amongst more emerging conflict, Mama announces that she and Liberata will also be Walking – going head-to-head with the boys, to win!
This is where the story really begins. With Mama’s appearance, two of the playwright’s dearest obsessions – Shakespeare and Vogue Balls – combine to allow a beautiful story of love, family, pride and resilience, to unfold.
Vogue Balls emerge as the direct descendant of Shakespeare’s timeless themes of disguise and misdirection and this production offers up “… a mash-up of 21st century queer sub-cultures, dating, fast sex, selfies, party drugs, recovery, romantic longing, hip-hop, house music, electro, street poetry, fashion, politics and dance, dance, dance.”
From a strong and very talented, very fit, cast, the dynamic result is tragically funny, sexy and surprising, and reaches out to each audience member with an empathic hand.
Beadle-Blair notoriously writes around his cast. His razor sharp wit and self-belief are best conveyed by the larger-than-life matriarch Mama, the deeply angry self-determining Valvirago and the narcissistic Principé. Liberata is fearless and nurturing, Mascerade is vulnerable optimism with an inner strength, Yasbos is angst and introspection, and Papa is fear and frustration. With such a close collaboration in characterisation, it is no wonder that each inhabits their roles to perfection.
Using such Hellenistic names, Beadle-Blair instantly gives a nod to archetypes everyone will recognise, and he remains true to them as their tragedy is laid bare, and ultimately ends on a bitter-sweet note of hope. Despite a sparse set consisting of a raised plain black T-shaped catwalk, this feels like the modern adventure of Frank-N-Furter’s Transsexual, Transylvanian countrymen! Think The Rocky Horror Picture Show (stage 1973, film 1975, TV 2016), Rent (stage 1993, film 2005), La Bohéme (opera 1896), Moulin Rouge (1952). The playwright absolutely nailed New York, which hovered as a 7th cast member, not least in the details of each character’s life – hugely impressive. Then again, Beadle-Blair did declare: “Come and learn about black gay culture. You will leave… a black kid from Harlem when you walk out that door! Trust me.”
Legendary Children in The House of Fierce was staged for three performances at the Old Vic Workrooms in Bermondsey to a hugely receptive audience and in true Beadle-Blair fashion, he took to the stage after three bows, for a short Q&A to ask for feedback. First commissioned by co-star Sambo, they cast the parts and outlined the story whilst in Sambo’s native Holland. The play has already been exhibited there in its present form, but it will undergo further development to, hopefully, become a fully staged musical or even a cinematic experience.
The first act could probably be a little leaner, and we discussed how sound issues meant that the opening rap could be clearer. But, the tender interior amongst the brash exterior is beautifully drawn out not just by the great performances, but also by Beadle-Blair’s original compositions, which exhibit a passionate, yet wistful, musicality.
As previously reported, Beadle-Blair will next be performing in a Greek piece with old friend Chris Panayi, who has created, Alexander: Two Souls, One Body, followed by Summer In London with a cast made up entirely of trans actors. For details see the previous TBB report here.
This particularly gracious British Blacklister could keep our entire writing team busy indefinitely. But, for now, we are excited to see how House of Fierce matures, as well as his follow up projects.
For more information, visit www.teamangelica.com