"Powerful sign of the times"
by Maddy Ryle for remotegoat on 16/08/10

There is a generation of young people growing up in the UK's cities today for whom the increasing prevalence of gun and knife crime is a shocking reality in their daily lives. We're aware of this as a society in the sense of a news event - or series of terrible events. We hear, with frightening regularity, reports of young people killed or maimed by one another on the streets where they live, in a depressing context of conflicts over drugs, 'postcodes', race, identity, and a violently aggressive materialistic culture. Or we hear of politicians or social programs that are struggling to find solutions to these horrendous crimes - but, it seems, failing.

What we don't have a grip on - and this, I'm afraid, has a lot to do with denial - is a proper analysis of the fact that these problems arise in a culture and society in which we all play a part - and, as they say, if you're not part of the solution…

Investigating these issues through culture, then, is crucial to raising awareness and bringing about change. Even more so to do that through the forms and language to which those most affected - young people themselves - can best relate. While no single 'issue-based' play (and, I'm sorry, but shouldn't all theatre be 'issue-based'?) has the capacity to get to the bottom of these very complex problems, Giant Olive's ZIP goes a long way in bringing to life what is at stake, personally and politically, in this 'scourge' of violent youth crime. Even better, it does it with massive amounts of verve and talent that kept me engrossed from start to finish.

This is the first 'musical' I've ever enjoyed. And yep, that's partly because I'm more into hip hop than I am big band numbers. But what makes this so special is the marriage of form and content - ZIP displays in explosive style the power of lyrical hip hop to tell a story about it's own times - our times. And with a cast that includes many musical performers and producers ZIP has pulled together an ensemble which tells this story with a freshness and insight you long for when you go the theatre.

The cast is large and I can't mention them all here, but James Kenward as the furious Selky, who loses his life at the start, is excellent as the lead commentator/emcee on the tragedy unfolding amongst the living characters, and the many tragedies behind the deaths of the now deceased 'Merked Chorus' who watch proceedings unfold. I understand he also wrote all the lyrics to the eight original songs - I hope he continues putting his immense talents to such effective use. He's complemented by powerful lead vocals from Tori Allen-Martin, and champion beatboxing from Tom Swarman. Of the 'live' characters Brandon Lee Henry as the streetwise Lexus was utterly convincing, and there were strong performances from both females - Jennifer Oliver as the vulnerable but sassy Queesha and Alma Eno as the posh girl Chloe, who ends up with a whole lot more trouble than she was seeking. Mark Gilham's ability to get inside the deeply troubled - and very young - Tru Blond was seriously impressive.

Revolving the central plot around an Afghani gang-leader, as a means of encompassing a wider social critique, was understandable - but a little clunky and obvious (and invited some issues with accents). But the sheer dynamism and passion of the performance - including excellent dancing and choreography (from Gary Lloyd), was anything but clunky. This production deserves to be seen a lot more widely - and it's that good that I'm confident it will be.

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Other recent reviews of ZIP: Gun & Knife Crime
ZIP: Gun & Knife Crime
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