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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Da Boyz
by Ben Clover

She's got a hundred virtues, each weighing a stone
-- Dromio
Da Boyz
Nolan Weekes as the Sergeant
(Photo: Robert Day)
Typical. You wait ages for a hip hop adaptation of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and then two come along all at once. Irony follows irony. As Shakespeare's play is all about the chaos caused by sets of twins and I was certainly confused. Thinking I was reviewing the American Bomb-itty of Errors I arrived at the theatre and found Da Boyz instead. I'd heard of the Bomb-itty from its success at the Edinburgh Festival and it didn't cross my mind that there might be another Hip Hop production of the same story opening on the same night, perhaps life does imitate art.

Stratford East's Da Boyz is an adaptation of the Rodgers and Hart musical The Boys from Syracuse which used Shakespeare's set up as a vehicle for the songs. The Theatre Royal's production does the same thing with great success. The evening was advertised on the flyers as a Hip Hop concert and stood in the stalls it felt like one. DJ Excalibah co-ordinated the music from high up on the stage and looked like a judge presiding over the proceedings below. The action of the piece was performed by a thirty strong cast who sang, rapped and danced with passion and precision. The tale was told with charm, speed and a pleasing mix of musical styles. The highlights were for me were Luce and Luciana's lament on love and the climax of the first half when the beats kicks up a gear to Drum and Bass speed.

From such a uniformly able cast it's hard to pick out individuals but Darren Hart and Kat as the two Dromios stole the show. Lorna Brown and Vanya Taylor had the best number and sang it beautifully.

The partnership of Hip Hop and traditional play in this production is a fruitful one and especially laudable because both forms can be disappointing individually. Rap concerts can feel unstructured and lacking the theatrical edge of the best rock shows. Updating Shakespeare often fails to bring the piece alive and can be plain embarrassing. The marriage of the two genres in Da Boyz accentuates the strengths of both and avoids such pitfalls. The music works better in the context of the play than it would have done otherwise and the play is in turn reinvigorated by the fluidity and dynamism of the delivery.

Although not adapted direct from Shakespeare I kept seeing parallels with the Elizabethan theatre experience during the evening. The lively, standing crowd were made to feel part of the show with call and response routines and local in-jokes. The relationship between audience and performers was such that Shakespearean style asides could be delivered unselfconsciously to the crowd who lapped it up as they would had they been in the Globe. Dance displays in the bar before and after the show gave the evening the air of a carnival that Elizabethan punters would have expected. This is in no way a typical theatre experience and all the better for it.

The cycle of irony would of course be complete if Da Boyz transferred to New York where the The Bomb-itty of Errors was conceived. As for that show, the review by Lizzie Loveridge, who did see it, can be found here.

Da Boyz
Music by Richard Rogers
Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
Book by George Abbott
Adapted by DJ Excalibah, MC Skolla and Ultz
Directed and designed by ULTZ

With: Darren Hart, Djan Hamit, Kat, Kyza, Lorna Brown, Mystro, Nolan Weekes, Sheryl "Peaches" Cadogan, Ricky Norwood, Susan Lawson Reynolds (Bustah), Vanya Taylor
Musical Directors: DJ Excalibah and MC Skolla
Choreographer: Steady
Lighting Designer: Dan Cook
Sound: Chris Whelan
Costume Design: Becky Seager
Running time: One hour fifty minutes with one interval .
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Booking to 14th June 2003
Reviewed by Ben Clover based on 8th May 2003 Performance at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square London E15 (Tube Station: Stratford)

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