‘You gotta fight, for the right, to party!’
As an answer to the polished West-End jukebox musical, this show is every inch the opposite. The Beastie Boys began as a hardcore punk band and this rebellious streak is echoed here. Raucous and flying in lo-fi silliness at every opportunity, Licensed to Ill is an endlessly loving tribute to its subjects.
The musical tracks the band’s career over the last few decades, zipping from the trademark beginning of the origin story to the unfortunately tragic ending. The early stages of the show fly by. We meet their puppet of a producer, see videos recreated and along the way are treated to songs fired in at every and any opportunity. The storytelling style is fast, scenes barely lasting for more than a minute before we quickly move on to the next one. It has an infectious energy that pulls its audience along, and it is a shame that this does become lost.
A fired-up cast commit to every single moment. Adam El Hagar (MCA), Daniel Foxsmith (Ad-Rock) and Simon Maeder (Mike D) launch themselves into each song as if leading their own revolution. Their movement is sharp, inflections and polished and there is a wonderful chemistry between them. Each are effortlessly engaging. Tope Mikun shines and flits easily between each of the characters around the boys, frequently walking away with the biggest laughs of the night. For fans of the group the atmosphere is absolutely joyful, and it certainly appears – from those attending – that this is the audience the show is really for.
Throughout the piece the audience remain a key feature. Each track is performed live for us as if in concert, and each member of the cast play their own instrument. For those without an attachment of the group, these moments do become tiresome, and this is true for the show itself. Fatigue sets in despite Tim Manscall’s impactful lighting design, alongside a playful functional quality to Jemima Robinson’s set. Audience participation sections proved mixed, but a recreation of the ‘Fight for Your Right’ video works well. It is a shame that a poignancy in the group’s forced break-up doesn’t quite land, and with the energy so high from the off, it does begin to wane.
However, this is a hyperactive show written for the true fans and they will have a blast hearing each tune joyously performed. It doesn’t seek to judge some questionable decisions but instead remembers the good. Yes, it becomes unfocused, and for those not-initiated, the show will be a struggle. But at the end of a difficult year, this show seeks to raise you up and catapult you out on a high, and for the most part succeeds.
Licensed to Ill is playing Southwark Playhouse until December 24.
Photo: Helen Maybanks