By Susanna Mulvihill
Billed as a hip-hop poetry musical this piece equates about as much to popular hip-hop music as Mozart does to Andrew Lloyd Webber. Fusing jazz, beat-boxing, beat poetry, physical theatre, storytelling and multi-media may seem like a potential recipe for an overwhelming mess of jumbled ideas but nothing in this show is misplaced, misused or mishandled. Displaying technical and timing skills enviable for any performer, Darian Dauchan (who is also the writer), takes us through the journey of Victor Spartan, an office worker who, when he becomes disillusioned with life, politics and the state, finds himself drawn towards radicalism.
This play is like a live-action graphic novel. On a bare stage with minor costume props lined up along the front around a loop station, Dauchan is accompanied by double bass (Ian Baggette) and violin (Curtis Stewart) with whom he makes up The Mighty Third Rail. The trio are all phenomenal musicians and together they build an atmospheric soundscape of urban life, warfare and emotion that ranges from being perfectly consuming when called for and tragically delicate at other times. The storytelling is entirely Dauchan’s domain, with a few choreography exceptions, which he delivers in front of a screen projecting comic book style illustrations (drawn by David Ayllon) that both adds to the action during the musical numbers and also offers a backdrop against which to set the scene when Dauchan is unaccompanied. Dauchan flits from character to character seemlessly, his physical presence never obscuring the screen despite his full use of the performance space, instead working with the images: the projections and script interweave in leaps from frame to frame the same way your eyes would across a comic strip. We are given a lot to consider throughout this piece – martyrdom, revolution, human nature, fear and grief, but these are all so well handled that they tie together the production rather than confuse it. The show starts off loud and busy then concentrates bit by bit until Baggette and Stewart turn their backs, the house lights go up and Dauchan, as Victor, addresses the audience. From here on in there is a new, more urgent focus to the action, again matched by the music, animation and poetry.
Altogether this production is as carefully constructed and as perfectly balanced as a house of cards. If at any point any element had been utilised even slightly heavy handedly the whole would have collapsed. Nothing is idly used and there is intense complexity in the simplicity of the constituent parts. From details like bombs hanging by threads from the fingers of an imposing Emperor figure in the animation to a modern telling of Prometheus, Death Boogie, directed by Jennifer McGrath, is an excellent innovative, exciting and challenging addition to the musical genre.