Melody loses her Mojo, from the dynamic theatre company 20 Stories High, is hip hop theatre at its best, fusing puppetry, beatboxing and street dance to narrate a story which reflects the experiences of tens of thousands of children in Britain who are looked after by the state.
Melody is an angry teenager who has grown up in the care system. Her five-year-old sister Harmony lives miles away with two foster mums who found Melody too much to handle. Stuck in a care home in the seaside town of Dumpton, Melody is determined to pass her GCSEs, but when she finds out Harmony is going to be adopted, her life once again begins to spin out of control.
The opening scenes are brilliantly creative, as Melody (a strong performance from Remmie Milner) introduces herself. Through spoken word and accompanied by cellist Hannah Marshall and International Beatboxing champion Hobbit, we meet the different players in her life, including residential worker Wet Jeff (Samuel Dutton), who squelches onto stage thanks to Hobbit's formidable skills.
There is also a beautiful sequence where we are introduced to Melody's Mojo. The blue rucksack in the shape of a monster is bought alive through the puppeting skills of Samuel Dutton and Zoe Hunter (who also plays Melody's social worker Jackie), and Hobbit's wide range of sound effects.
Writer and director Kieth Saha doesn't sugarcoat the experiences of Melody and her friends. Melody has a drink problem, and her friend Rizla, who left the care home and is living in a hostel, sells drugs and himself. At one point Melody quotes her social worker, who she overheard saying "these kids are so damaged", and wonders aloud whether she is really is.
Saha, who was in care himself when he was six, collaborated with young people and social workers, and their experiences are very much real. Although the themes are grim, the play doesn't feel overwhelmingly gritty. Instead, the energy of the performances and Saha's observational humour make this an entertaining watch.
20 Stories High once again successfully tackles topics that most theatre companies wouldn't touch. Issue-based theatre has never been so innovative.
- Joanna Ing