REVIEW | HIP-HOP THEATRE SHOW ‘HIGH RISE ESTATE OF MIND’ BY BEATS AND ELEMENT

HRAccord­ing 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

Sound­cloud link to soundtrack

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Mark Mukasa

Mark Mukasa

Mark is a South Lon­don based writer and avid fan of all things hip hop. He’s also an MMA and his­tory enthu­si­ast who tries to keep his love of animé under wraps.

About Mark Mukasa

Mark Mukasa
Mark is a South London based writer and avid fan of all things hip hop. He's also an MMA and history enthusiast who tries to keep his love of anime under wraps.