Streets, the newest production from the youthful Interval Productions, makes the bold claim to be “a new kind of musical”. That sets up a huge amount of expectation in an audience; the show has to offer a fresh perspective as well as offering a new kind of style and aesthetic. That is a lot to ask for. Streets does not disappoint.
With writers Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley, composer Finn Anderson has reworked his Edinburgh Fringe hit into a piece that takes place during the days leading up to, and in the immediate aftermath, of the London riots. Streets examines how environments shape people, how they influence them as they struggle with the same emotions that characters have done throughout history: young couples in love, desperate individuals trying to find a way to fit in, people addicted to power.
The piece is set just after the riots, when some of the central characters have been arrested. Danielle Watson (of This Is England) plays a police officer who interrogates the characters, and through a series of flashbacks they tell their own story. It is a slick device that doesn’t feel clichéd, allowing for a gradual unravelling of a complex plot that could rival a Shakespearian tragedy; backstabbing, lying, sex, drugs, murder, and all entirely recognisable and relatable for the youth of today.
The central character, Robyn (Sian Louise), provides the emotional heart of the piece. Robyn is in love with drug addict Rick (Brandon Henry), but he gradually forces her away and she finds release in the arms of nice boy Jason (Ben Astle). Louise’s performance is beautifully pitched; her relationship with Rick is tempestuous and strained, while the relationship with Jason is tender, loving. Brandon Henry’s progressive descent into severe drug addiction is riveting to watch, particularly in the second half of the play when he loses all he has bit by bit.
James Eyres Kenward gives a stunning, witty performance as Skinner, a kind of narrator figure and the man who seems to run everything and everyone. He is quietly menacing and entirely in control. This blend is truly terrifying. Kamilah Beckles and Ryan-Lee Seager’s choreography is an electrifying combination of contemporary and street dance styles. Jake Leigh stands out from the crowd and in one particular duet it is impossible to take your eyes off him.
Musically, the piece is more backed by the band than it is in a musical. In Streets, external vocalists sing on the behalf of the characters. This is surprisingly effective. Lead vocalists Tori Allen-Martin and Benedict both have remarkable voices. Allen-Martin is a startlingly emotional performer, really nailing the rawness of the lyrics. Finn Anderson’s music is perfect for the piece; at times haunting, at times fierce, it is a powerful score. Juxtaposing the more traditionally ‘musical theatre’, lyrical numbers is beatboxing from Pikey Esquire and rap, written and performed by James Eyres Kenward. Musical Director Kris Rawlinson does well, leading the musicians from the keyboard.
Director Adam ‘Bo’ Boland has created a streamlined, emotionally raw piece of theatre. What could feel disjointed is held together by a strong through-line and Anderson’s captivating score. The ends of both acts are incredibly climactic – a lot happens in a very short space of time, particularly in the conclusion, but this is done with such precision and clarity that the audience never feels lost.
Although some of the acting is a little presentational and there is an over-fondness for shouting, this is exciting musical theatre that deserves to be championed and developed further. Most of all, this is theatre for the younger generation that is fiercely creative and thrillingly fresh. It deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Get yourself down to see Streets now, you don’t want to miss this.
Streets is playing at the Cockpit Theatre until 21 April. For more information and tickets, see Cockpit Theatre website.