According to the National Centre for Social Research, around 70% of people think the government is not doing enough to tackle the housing crisis. Another study commissioned by the Resolution Foundation found that home ownership among 25 to 34-year olds has more than halved in parts of Britain. Struggle, as they say, breeds good art, so it is only natural that the musical theatre world tackle some of the millennial frustration with the housing crisis.
Director Conrad Murray’s new stage production High Rise Estate of Mind is a release of that frustration and anger, through the medium of hip-hop, beatboxing and experimental sounds. Borrowing heavily from British writer J.G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise, Murray’s Estate of Mind is a satirical look at how inner-city housing impacts the psychology of residents throughout their lives and an examination of the aspirations and angst that stem from living in an unequal society. Featuring acclaimed beatboxer, singer, rapper and director Conrad Murray, Estate of Mind also includes spoken word author Paul Cree, rapper Gambit Ace and spoken word artist Lakeisha Lynch Stevens.
Going beyond the show’s thematic elements, the show tremendously demonstrates how creative a talented cast can be with limited resources. A thick multi-layered musical landscape is made from four beatboxers, one guitar and innovative use of a looper to blend grime, hip hop and pop together into a superb and varied original score. Beatboxing is as much of a traditional hip hop technique as it is an exhibition of the strange and mind-blowing sounds that can be made by one person. The unique selling point of Estate of Mind is its amazing playfulness with sound and how daring it tries to be as the music veers between upbeat and tongue-in-cheek ditties to gritty and intense verses reminiscent of Nas’ iconic NY State of Mind or Plan B’s Ill Manors.
Thematically, Estate of Mind expertly captures the two contradictory emotions stemming from the housing crisis that plague millennials. Firstly, despite an abysmal property market and rampant inequality in ‘broken Britain’, home ownership is still an aspiration for most millennials. In Estate of Mind the characters obsess over their desire to have their own home. Whether it’s a council house they have waited years for, or a detached house, owning a place of their own is tightly tied to their self-worth. On the other hand, the lack of progress on the property ladder is anxiety inducing and its relation to self-worth is a depressing undercurrent in the show.
Estate of Mind also explores the question of whether a council estate upbringing is a prison that limits the mindset or something to derive pride from. The cast members are hampered by the council state of mind, but the show makes it clear that these impoverished neighbourhoods can foster a close bond and community spirit in locals. It begs the question, why do we event want to leave the ‘hood?
Estate of Mind raises many interesting and relevant questions and at one point even opens the floor to the audience to try to answer some of them. It’s an indictment of the way the younger generation and working-class Britons have been let down by the system, but it’s also a fun show and despite the serious tones, it’s self-aware enough not to take itself too seriously. With captivating performances and brilliantly innovative songs, High Rise Estate of Mind is an eye-opening and relatable portrait of a generation’s crisis.
HIGH RISE ESTATE OF MIND BY BEATS AND ELEMENT
Slough Home: Saturday 8 June 2019 — 7.00pm-8.30pm