Into The Hoods: Remixed is an upbeat family show, with an attractively relaxed and inviting quality. It is a revival, and first played in 2006 as the first ever hip-hop dance show in the West End, created by the since hugely successful ZooNation.
The company is created by dancers who were frustrated with being backing dancers and wanted to be performers in their own right. The predominantly young cast (with the average age at around twenty) exudes charisma and energy, as they invite us into their modern take on Sondheim’s hit musical Into The Woods.
The modern retelling, for the most part, works. Instead of the woods, we are lost in Ruff Endz Estate, and the fairy tale characters all take on their own hip-hop personas. What is especially successful about this re-invention of the characters is that the princesses become empowered. Cinderella becomes Spinderella, an aspiring DJ and Rapunzel becomes Rap-on-Zel, a bad-ass MC.
Of all the characters, most successfully, Kate Prince, writer, director and founder of ZooNation, reinvents the Red Riding Hood/Wolf dynamic; Wolf, played by Duwane Taylor, is an overbearing manager in the music industry, who ropes Lil Red, played by Natasha Gooden, into a contract, where the small print turns out to leave much to be desired. This is just one instance where an element of the fairy tale is made pertinently culturally relevant.
Despite it’s progressive take on the princesses, the show’s treatment of the ugly stepsisters falls back on the familiar pantomime conceit of ridiculing men in drag. The central narrative of the search for the iPhone, the hoodie, the weave and the trainers is gimmicky. In Sondheim’s original, the search for the items holds the plot together; in this version, the items become extraneous to the compelling world of Ruff Endz Estate.
As well as the items themselves, the relationship between the witch (transformed into a male Landlord) and the two children, is heavy-handed. The Landlord’s communication (mostly mimed snippets from well-known tunes) is played against non-descript background music. As an object is acquired, we see it crossed off on a projection, echoing a video game narrative.
The show boasts an incredibly strong ensemble of hip-hop performers. They are all brilliantly cast to showcase each performers’ unique talents. ZooNation are unafraid to play with genres and experiment with form, bu I’d like to see them be more daring and unapologetic with their choices.
Into the Hoods: Remixed is playing at the Peacock Theatre until the 14 November. For more information and tickets, see the Sadler’s Wells website.