A Hip-Hop Rap version of the Bard’s Comedy of Errors sounds just like the kind of thing I would want to avoid. Hip-Hop has never appealed because of its glamorisation of guns and violence, misogamy and homophobia and its glorification of the strutting macho male ego. (Through thankfully, this is not true of all hip-hop artists, and in Britain Ms Dynamite is doing her best to mellow its more unsavoury elements). Also, the whole idea of a hip-hop version sounds like a foolish attempt to resurrect Shakespeare and make him relevant to a younger audience. I had pictures of Antipholus of Ephesus break dancing as he tries to woo Luciana, or waving a gun every few minutes to prove he is a tough, not to be messed with dude, that sent a shiver down my spine.
However, I could not be more mistaken. This is a show that has great energy, cleverly updates the Bard’s plot so the action takes place in NY city, and proves that Shakespeare’s classic comedy is still as funny in the 21st century as it proved to be in the 16th.
As one would expect the play begins with the prologue where the updated plot is explained. We are told “Thirty years ago in NY city lived a biddy named Betty that was all so pretty” who falls for a DJ and it is not long before “Betty got knocked up and her stomach started growing” eventually she gives birth to “quadruplets, four beautiful baby boys, four beautiful bundles of joy” - the Antipholus and Dromio twins. The father, desperate to provide for such a large family, starts dealing in drugs “just to try and get by and give his family what they need” and is eventually jailed and ends up committing suicide. Betty gives the kids up to an adoption agency, where one pair of twins are adopted by a family in the city of Syracuse and the other pair by a family in the city of Ephesus. Each pair of twins are visited by their father’s ghost who tells them “one day you will find your missing link, when you look in the mirror and you see yourself blink”.
When the East coast Antipholus and Dromio twins from the city of Syracuse visit Ephesus searching for their mysterious ‘missing link’ mayhem ensues. Out of town Antipholus discovers he has a wife Adriana, and a sister-in-law Luciana whom he falls in love with. Meanwhile the other Antipholus is accused of all kinds of misdemeanours and ends up being arrested by a sex-crazed cop.
This is a breath taking and exhilarating performance by four talented actors, who are constantly changing costumes and characters. The characters they bring to life on stage are each hilariously funny, even if they are shallow and one-dimensional. We have the peroxide dumb blond Luciana who cannot remember the words of a rap that consists of only one word, even when that word is her own name. The cop who is “try-sexual” in that he likes trying sex. The street girl who is tougher then any of the men and while they yap like a Yorkshire terrier she barks like a blood hungry rottweiler. There is also the Hasidic jeweller, the Rastafarian medicine man, and Bob the goofy courier.
So what if the knockabout comedy depends upon drag, innocent smut, rap that in a few places definitely does not rhyme, and superficial characters, one is having far too good a time to care. The four actors Charles Anthony Burks, Chris Edwards, Joe Hernandez-Kolski and Ranney keep you laughing from beginning to end.
This comedy is a must see for all ages. I thought this play would be about making Shakespeare accessible to a younger audience, but I now also realise it makes American youth street culture accessible to an older audience!
Hop down to this Hip show.
What other critics had to say.....
RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Lightning humour and exhilaratingly sparky performances." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "Clever, rude, raucous fun." And goes on to say, "The evening is never a drag, is often very funny." IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, "Despite the odd sly line, Andrew Goldberg's production trades on stereotypes, burly men in drag, crude slapstick and genial vulgarity. Panto has come early and it's got a hip-hop beat." RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "After about an hour, one's elation at the youthful high spirits and amateurish charm turns to impatience at the monotonous beat." IAN SHUTTLEWORTH for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Fast, funny and clever phenomenon." CHARLES SPENCER for DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Make no mistake, this hip hop Shakespeare is a blast."
External links to full reviews from popular press