Scratched Out - The Urban Musical

Scratched Out has been described as an Urban Musical, directed and composed by Richard Hale with lyrics by London spoken word favourite, Dean Atta. The scratch performance I saw of this show showed a great deal of theatrical potential. There was a real energy and honesty which was hard to resist. Scratched Out tells the story of six young people who want to make it in the music industry and for some making it through day to day is enough of a challenge. The show starts with a musical and dance number. The audience could not deny their obvious enthusiasm. Like the best musicals, the emotional exposition is told through the songs.

Scenes change rapidly and the focus of the piece is on inter-personal relationships rather than a convoluted plot line. The script works best when it fully exploits rhyme, keeping both pace and hip-hop at the heart of it.

‘I’d rather get high than get laid/ I don’t play that game, I just relax and maintain’ displays the neat description of character often seen in Scratched Out adding real texture to the show.

Jordan Pitt, in the role of Jason, has a shuddering stage presence. Rudwone Huyghue as Luke talks about why he wants what he wants with such urgency 'I've been scratched out all of my life'. This poignant sentiment continues when he tells us he craves 'a confidence that will warm the coldest winters.'

Luke is the voice of thwarted hope and his story is an unhappy reminder of so many city lives. 'What's the point of dreaming if you have to wake up to a nightmare?' he asks.

The female characters Jenny and Amanda are juxtaposed to full dramatic effect. Whilst Amanda prefers to wear loose and none revealing sportswear Jenny tries to encourage her to dress in more feminine manner. Amanda retorts that she is not ’scared of being a girl’ but that she cannot understand the reasoning of spending ‘too much for too little material’.

The show does have a tragic and heart-breaking end and I wondered if it was possible to convey the 'realness' without having a senseless death at its culmination. Sadly I think not. Scratched Out is a brave step away from happy-go-lucky West End theatre and for this alone it must be applauded.

I would highly recommend 'Scratched Out'. It's sincerity is unbeatable, and whilst this passionate musical does not shy away from difficult truths it is also very entertaining. I left feeling both saddened by the outcome but determined to contribute to positive change. You can book tickets for Scratched Out here

Fight Face - a review

A re-cycled set emblazoned with graffiti, slide projections and animation is the setting for the talented Sophie Woolley's Fight Face. The action takes place in and around Real Taste, a take-away where the long-suffering Jenghis works. His first customer is the mouthy Leanne from Essex who is primed for a fight describing herself as "I've got taste, not like this place". Over the night arguments ensue between strangers, a kaleidoscope of characters brilliantly drawn by Woolley. The performances in 'Fight Face' are superlative. Sophie Woolley and David Rubin morph between characters with such expertise I had to remind myself that this was a cast of only two people.

Tabitha is an East London artist, posh, edgy and brittle. Jerry is a gutter drunk mourning the death of a pole dancer. Rob and Jim are two builders, the comedy duo of the piece, who watch benignly as the action unfolds. Jim is satisfied watching women and being "man and drill, at one with concrete". Helen is a new mother with a baby who won't stop crying and sadly describes herself as " I'm good at quizzes but I can't do men very well". The estranged Natalia and Tomek argue about a dog and a cat. Carl is in Tabitha's words 'a hoody' whose violence tendencies progress as the play progresses. Eric and Mary are a pair of cops, inept and formal. All, with the exception of Rob and Jim, have something fundamental missing from their lives.

Woolley's strength is in describing extremes of human behaviour as both comedic and sad. She is especially gifted in creating women characters on the edge of sanity. 'Fight Face' is not merely a comedy, it pushes the boundaries of surreal story telling to a nightmarish conclusion. The script is sparkling with wit and cutting social observation.

Jenghis finally reveals his own murderous fantasies in response to the meaningless existences he witnesses saying "You are dead, prepare to die and then I give them some chips." and then more poignantly, the most resonant comment in the whole of 'Fight Face' "I know who to kill but who do I save?"

When Jerry meets Tabitha she greets him with a nihilistic "I'm Tabitha. Life's shit, isn't it?". The climax is both tragic and darkly comedic and Tabitha's dramatic demise forces us to look at the pretentious and self-indulgent in a wonderfully caustic way.

Have Box Will Travel - Charlie Dark's blistering new one man show

Have Box Will Travel is Blacktronica founder Charlie Dark's sizzling new one man show. Directed with a relaxed intelligence by Benji Reid HBWT chronicles Dark's journey to adulthood and a touching realisation of what it is to be truly human. Beginning with boyhood DJ fantasies whilst his ever-patient mother bellows through the bedroom door, Dark introduces us to his first love, the deliciousness of vinyl. As a young boy Charlie is believable and endearingly foolish. The description of a teenage party complete with underage smoking, drinking and some unwanted Heavy Metal had me splitting my sides with welcome recognition. As did his unsuccessful attempts to out dance Sweaty Tony at the legendary Dingwalls

His characterisation of his mother allows us to see the rapid quest to find himself through caring and resigned eyes. On her son's new attire she says "he's taken to wearing camouflage at all times. It's like living in the house with a bush!" The warmth of this relationship is made even more apparent when he goes to visit his father in Ghana who appears as a distant figure communicating his love mainly through his pocket.

Anyone who recalls the delirious history of London's pirate radio will relish the descriptions of the “right hand side of the dial' and “stations sandwiched between stations”.

There is so much humour in the first two thirds of the show I would defy anyone not to fall in love with Charlie Dark and his Tigger-like enthusiasm for the music. "I come home, put my headphones on and immerse myself in sound” he says.

The tale becomes increasingly poetic as he describes his search for illusive records hidden in “dark basements filled with other people's dreams” and the sheer orgiastic delight when he asks “have you ever seen 1000 records in one room?” Dark has that rare and deft gift of making the universal personal and the personal universal.

His dreams of becoming a Super DJ are ultimately unsatisfying, the more elite the gig the less responsive the audience “a private function where no one cares about the music” leading finally to the Attica Blues signing by Sony Records and the damning realisation that he is “fish-food in a tank full of piranhas” and a shattering mental breakdown. Dark’s violent scratching away at the surface of a record with a kitchen knife is symbolic of the self harm possible after such an enormous betrayal.

As a moving homage to self acceptance HBWT will break your heart. But, as he tells us, it is all welcome “the breakdown was a gift, it meant I didn't have to be that character anymore”. Charlie Dark teaches us how important it is to be ourselves, and how music will keep us alive when little else will.