When a list of words is reeled out: community; violence; bad language, you may start adding your own: preaching; obvious; boring. That would be a mistake. Just mix in some like: music, dance, rap, yes, even graffiti-style art, mime and puppets, and - result: a most original piece of theatre. Top marks to 20 Stories High and Birmingham Repetory Theatre, and to everybody involved in bringing this to life.
When somebody loses a child, they would give anything – anything, to see them again. But Jamal, who had had Michael constantly pestering him, is haunted by the Ghost Boy and ends up at the mercy of all his demons. And although his gang run riot through the Lemonade Estate, he eventually turns to the vigilante, Dennis.
The basic staging of a bridge with one set of steps is enhanced by a video screen, with a range of surreal props. Just as bizarre is the gang, represented by cardboard cutouts à la Gorillaz, never mind the outfit Dennis sports as ‘Fly Man’, determined not just to clean up the estate but transform it into paradise. Much of the dialogue gives rise to considerable comedy, but in best Shakespearian tradition, there is tragedy to deal with and the inevitability of dilemma. Although the second half is a little long winded in places, it builds up into poignant resolution.
The use of language gives the play magical powers, from authentic dialogue and astonishing metaphor to lyrics, expertly rapped. All complemented superbly by Hannah Marshall on the cello and Hobbit as Beatboxer, an incredible one man band of sound effects.
Everal A Walsh as the Narrator tells us about Michael, then masterfully turns Dennis into an unlikely hero; we are laughing more with him, not at him, for all his batty ideas. As for Tachia Newall, exuding lethal bad boy cool and never apologising, explaining or showing gratitude, he does a sterling job in making Jamal sympathetic. Courtney Hayles, stuck with a head which makes him look like the bastard offspring of Frank Sidebottom and Crazy Frog, is quite incredible. Purely through dance and gesture, he evokes pathos in Michael and menace in the Ghost Boy.
An enthralling, fantastic production, in every respect. The enthusiastic audience may have largely comprised fans, friends and family but that first will soon expand once news gets out: the kind of drama which should appear in every theatre, in every town.