The Royal Court Theatre has been home to many alternative “hit or miss” concepts over the years …
… but never to a contemporary coming-of-age piece like this.
Debris Stevenson’s alternative, ‘Poet in da Corner‘ is a grime-musical underpinned by the sounds and flows of Dizzee Rascal’s album, ‘Boy in da Corner‘. At first, I thought this was simply a choice made to accredit this Grime artist over others due to his influential effect this album had on her life, as she goes on to show us. But there is actually another element to Stevenson using the tracks. She goes into an even deeper premise, ‘at what point does crediting blur into plagiarism?‘ This strand of story resonates throughout as the initiating reason for her telling us the story of her life in the first place, and, very intelligently, giving us a beautiful and well tied-in point of resolution at the end.
I can’t pretend to have grown up knowing a lot about Grime, or that this kind of music had a deep impact on my life, save to say that I’m black and so are most of the artists. However, perhaps this ignorance makes me the perfect person to write about this piece because I felt welcomed by the way Stevenson unfurled Grime, highlighted and made the lyrics sweeter and richer, displaying the necessary lyric writing as a Grime artist. She, as was her aim, gave Grime a strong contemporary standing against poets such as Burton and Shakespeare, who, in their time, would have been considered just as revolutionary and contra status quo.
The acting was excellent across the board. A massive shout out must go to Cassie Clare and Kirubel Belay who played multiple characters but emphasised, very distinctively, the differences between each without losing a literal beat, as their dance skills were on pedestal-level par with their acting. If I were told they were singers too, I would not be surprised as they felt like true triple threats up on that stage.
That being said, whatever Debris and MC Jammz lacked in physical technique in comparison, they made up for in lyrical skills spending nearly an hour spitting bars, not for the faint-hearted, and ensuring we were still following their stories. It was incredible to watch and I massively applaud the ensemble as a whole for being one of the most diversely talented and tightest I have seen this year.
At the Royal Court, the shows I have seen have a tendency to be extravagantly staged and Poet in Da Corner was no exception. However, thankfully, for the sake of the storytelling, we were watching, and the need of the audience to really exercise their imagination, it worked to help signpost where we were in the story and the importance of certain aspects such as her mother’s religion and how it impacted Stevenson’s family and growing up.
The last thing to highlight is, for me, the most commercially important. It is never usually the case that an audience really has an effect upon a piece but, for this one, it is almost vital that the audience has some seasoned Grime listeners in the audience as, otherwise, there are points where the awkwardness of lost jokes and language upon a majority west London upper-class audience, is too painful to witness.
The audience demographics can make or break the success of this very fresh and unique show, which is exciting, yet heartbreaking.
Poet in Da Corner runs until Saturday the 6th October at the Royal Court. Find out more and book tickets here.