REVIEW & INTERVIEW| FRANKENSTEIN: HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER AT BATTERSEA ARTS CENTRE (@battersea_arts)

Left to right –GLITCH(Nadine Rose Johnson), GROVE (Beth Griffin),AMINITA (Aminita Francis), NATIVE(Nathaniel Forder-Staple)Photocredit Joyce Nicholls

Left to right –GLITCH(Nadine Rose John­son), GROVE (Beth Griffin),AMINITA (Amin­ita Fran­cis), NATIVE(Nathaniel Forder-Staple)Photocredit Joyce Nich­olls

Hip-hop might be the most pop­ular music­al gen­re in the world, but it isn’t some­thing usu­ally paired with eight­eenth cen­tury goth­ic lit­er­at­ure. With that said, Bat­ter­sea Arts Centre’s Franken­stein: How to Make A Mon­ster, might be the first hip-hop inspired adapt­a­tion of Mary Shelley’s Franken­stein told through the medi­ums of beat­box­ing, rap and singing to hit the stage. Six per­formers with six micro­phones per­form a mod­ern retell­ing of the Shelly clas­sic, updated to incor­por­ate themes such as social media troubles, cyber­bul­ly­ing and youth­ful uncer­tainty.

It’s quirky, but it works won­der­fully. Wit­ness­ing this adapt­a­tion, it comes across as a superbly rel­ev­ant addi­tion to the pan­theon of great clas­sic­al lit­er­at­ure inter­pret­a­tions. It’s cer­tainly nowhere near as chilling as the 1931 film ver­sion star­ring the icon­ic Bor­is Kar­loff or even as sin­ister as the 2011 Nation­al Theatre adapt­a­tion fea­tur­ing Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch. How­ever, through its unique medi­um, it man­ages to faith­fully exam­ine Shelley’s themes sur­round­ing cre­ation, aban­don­ment, mor­al­ity, and sci­en­ti­fic eth­ics, all while pla­cing it with­in a mod­ern inner-city youth­ful and diverse Lon­don con­text.

The beat­box­ing adds a beau­ti­fully mal­le­able aspect to the stage that dis­tin­guishes the BAC’s adapt­a­tion from oth­er stage plays. All the cast are skilled beat­box­ers, able to rep­lic­ate intric­ate drum pat­terns, whistles and deep bass­lines in one moment and then har­mon­ise with smooth haunt­ing vocals. The sounds are unpre­dict­able and leave the audi­ence in con­stant sur­prise at how such a tal­en­ted youth­ful cast could cre­ate such a tre­mend­ously layered sound­scape. Franken­stein: How to Make A Mon­ster is a tri­umphant and inter­act­ive revi­sion to the clas­sic, that ends up stand­ing tall.

Franken­stein: How to Make A Mon­ster is hos­ted by the Bat­ter­sea Arts Centre and BAC Beat­box Academy and is dir­ec­ted by Dav­id Cum­ming and Con­rad Mur­ray. Dav­id is a pro­fes­sion­al act­or, theatre-maker and musi­cian, who co-dir­ects his award-win­ning com­edy theatre com­pany Kill the Beast.  Con­rad has been lead­ing the BAC Beat­box Academy for 10 years and is an act­or, writer, dir­ect­or, rap­per and beat­box­er.

Franken­stein: How to Make A Mon­ster cast fea­tures Amin­ita (Amin­ita Fran­cis), Glitch (Nad­ine Rose John­son), Wiz-Rd (Tyler Wor­thing­ton), Nat­ive (Nath­anial Forder-Staple), ABH (ABH Beat­box) and Grove (Beth Griffin).

Yes­ter­day I caught up with Dav­id and Con­rad to dis­cuss the play, clas­sic lit­er­at­ure and which rap­pers they think are as good as Mary Shel­ley.

What can we expect from your show?

Con­rad Mur­ray: An exper­i­ence that is some­thing like a gig, but with a sense of drama., but some­where in the middle. An hour of incred­ible beats and music.

Dav­id Cum­ming: A rush of blood to the head, a pound of beats to the feet and a punch of emo­tion to the gut. It’s like a live con­cept-album with move­ment, music, lights and lyr­ics that some­how takes you on a rave through the story of Franken­stein.

What attrac­ted you both on a per­son­al level to the Franken­stein story?

Con­rad: For me, it was partly the fact it was 200 years old. Plus, the book itself asks a lot of ques­tions about sci­ence and tech­no­logy, which is what we do with the show at times, with songs such as ‘Click click, clack’.

Dav­id: I think for me it was the idea of the Mon­ster as the etern­al out­sider that really res­on­ated with me. The inter­play between the power and power­less­ness that comes from being out­side of nor­mal soci­ety. As a queer, mixed-race North­ern­er liv­ing in Lon­don I feel highly con­nec­ted to cer­tain sub-cul­tures but then entirely excluded from most con­ven­tion­al ones. It’s a strange pos­i­tion to be in.

It has been 201 years since the pub­lic­a­tion of Mary Shelley’s Franken­stein. Why rein­ter­pret it as a music­al and through beat­box spe­cific­ally?

Con­rad: Beat­box per­form­ance is what we do, so there would be no oth­er way for us. It seemed like a good time, and a story that is recog­nis­able, but not a lot of people are famil­i­ar with.

Dav­id: I also think there is a really inter­est­ing par­al­lel between Mary Shel­ley and the mem­bers of the Beat­box Academy. Shel­ley was only 18 when she wro­te Franken­stein and yet her Goth­ic nov­el (a rel­at­ively new medi­um at the time) brims with some of the most polit­ic­ally, sci­en­tific­ally and philo­soph­ic­ally revolu­tion­ary ideas of her time. So why not give today’s youth the chance to do the same, using their own culture’s art-form in ways it hasn’t been used before?

Franken­stein is above all things, a piece of work that asks you to exam­ine who is the real mon­ster: the mon­ster itself, or Dr Franken­stein, the cre­at­or of the mon­ster. As you have a youth­ful cast, who or what are the 21st Cen­tury mon­sters that affect young people?

Con­rad: That would be giv­ing too much away! I think you have to see the show to answer that ques­tion. I think that a lot of young people feel like they are being made to look like mon­sters, the way that the media por­trays them.

Dav­id: Yeah, you need to come see the show to find out prop­erly, but I think we don’t often give cred­it to the hos­til­ity a lot of young people feel from the world around them, the world we cre­ated for them. The power of social media and the inter­net, the rise of the alt-right, cli­mate change — it’s hard enough try­ing to pro­cess all that neg­at­iv­ity as an adult, nev­er mind as a teen­ager try­ing to work out their own future.

Have people respon­ded well to the blend­ing of a clas­sic story and hip hop? Did you receive any elit­ist push­back, for example?

Con­rad: People have LOVED it. We have re-acquain­ted them with an old friend — but this time it is related. We even per­formed at an offi­cial Mary Shelly fan club event, so, so far so good.

Dav­id: Yeah, the respon­se has been over­whelm­ingly pos­it­ive. I don’t know if it counts as elit­ist push­back, but I think some people are shocked at the depth of the show and how it exam­ines the themes of Shelley’s nov­el in a mod­ern con­text. Per­haps they didn’t think beat­box­ers would be able to handle such weighty sub­ject mat­ter? I dun­no. Either way, we proved them wrong!

Did you face any chal­lenges in present­ing a hip-hop inspired story in theatre? Although there have been a few music­als or plays that have incor­por­ated hip-hop, it isn’t neces­sar­ily a pop­ular form­at.

Con­rad: I per­son­ally don’t worry about the chal­lenges. I have been cre­at­ing hip hop theatre for over ten years and the Beat­box Academy has been going for around ten years, and we have been out here. I could have given up and gone down a safer more tra­di­tion­al route, but I’m about the cul­ture.

Dav­id: I think there is still work to be done in terms of the per­cep­tion of who a piece of hip-hop theatre is for. Some people may look at the phrase ‘beat­box theatre’ and think ‘Oh, that’s not for me. I’m not part of that cul­ture.’ But that is exactly what we are try­ing to dis­prove with this show. If you like music (and frankly which sane per­son doesn’t like music??) then there is no reas­on this show wouldn’t be for you.

Con­rad: I feel like finally people are listen­ing to what we are doing. The res­ults have been impress­ive, and we already have big part­ners in place for the future of the show, so people are def­in­itely inter­ested.

Would you con­sider adapt­ing any oth­er works of clas­sic lit­er­at­ure? Which clas­sic story would lend itself to a hip-hop inspired retell­ing?

Con­rad: I have already made a beatbox/hip hop one man show which incor­por­ated Shakespeare’s Ham­let.  That was a suc­cess and was one of the inspir­a­tions for using a clas­sic piece of lit­er­at­ure for this story.  I’ve recently been play­ing with the idea of a beat­box ver­sion of 1984, and toyed around with it, with hip hop group 5 mics and some Moun­tview stu­dents. I’m mulling it over. Orwell is the man.

Dav­id: I think there is so much poten­tial for epic-ness in hip-hop — the growl­ing bass, the deep dark beats, the soar­ing melod­ies — that I reck­on we should take it prop­er old-school and go back to Ancient Greece. I’d love to see a hip-hop ver­sion of The Odys­sey.

Hip hop at its heart is storytelling. Would you say that any rap­pers (US or UK) have reached a level where their storytelling is com­par­able with icon­ic writers such as Shel­ley?

Con­rad: Yes, Jay Z and Nas are def­in­itely com­par­able. Lots of double entendres and meta­phors. The visu­als in their writ­ing are next level.

Dav­id: I always thought that Tyler, the Cre­at­or and Odd Future were really good at tak­ing the listen­er on a well-craf­ted, dark (and some­times twis­ted) jour­ney, like they really con­sidered the tone of what they were say­ing and the ebb and flow of the story. But wheth­er they will be as icon­ic as Shel­ley — only time will tell!

Franken­stein: How To Make A Mon­ster
Bat­ter­sea Arts Centre and BAC Beat­box Academy
Bat­ter­sea Arts Centre, Lav­ender Hill, SW11 5TN
Date: 12 – 29 Mar 2019
Time: 8:30pm
Price:  £15 — £26
Book­ing Link: bac.org.uk/frankenstein
Box Office: 020 7223 2223

 

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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.