The story combines four fairytales and turns them on their heads (literally, in light of the break dancing). Two children lose their way and find themselves at the Ruff Endz Estate where they meet a series of familiar characters like DJ Spinderella, MC Rap-on-Zel with her long hair extensions, Prince, ‘Lil Red who always visits her grandmother and then there’s Jaxx, who lives in a basement. There they meet the Landlord (dressed like Outkast’s Andre) who sends out to get four objects for his daughter’s birthday.
Visually the show is arresting. The basic set comprises graffitied walls, topped with street lamp heads. Scene changes are made possible by a projected video on the blank backdrop. Animation from Ikenna Mokwe, Maxwell Oginni and Olly Montagu interacts with the dancers. At one point an animated Spinderella walks down animated steps only to step through the backdrop as a real person.
Unlike Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Prince’s creation is not a musical. Instead sound designer Rory Madden and DJ Walde have assembled an impressive soundtrack containing clips from well-known artists including Stevie Wonder, Massive Attack, Sam Cooke, Gorrilaz, Lily Allen and Lady Sovreign. The whole is assembled together by DJ Walde. Furthermore, the characters don’t speak instead narration from Josh Cohen provides the story and the voices.
The choreography, like the music, blends different styles in an innovative way - this is far from the music videos many people associate with street dance. Kate Prince and the ZooNation company mix in ballet moves and lindy hop with the more traditional urban dance. The ensemble provides backing dancing for the characters, street scenes, and most innovatively bits of scenery. At one point Prince checks himself out in a mirror made of two dancers in an arch, while another imitates his movements. It's a fleeting moment, which makes you wonder what other visual tricks you may have missed.
Into the Hoods is saturated with wit and parody. In a world of tired long-running musicals this is a fresh and exciting show that, especially if you didn't catch it first time round, should not be missed.
- Joanna Ing
NOTE: The following FOUR STAR review dates from March 2008, and this production's run at the Novello Theatre.
“Be warned, this is theatre, but it’s hip-hop theatre” booms a voice as Into the Hoods gets underway.
Too right. ZooNation has adapted Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods into a modern-day dance extravaganza. Complete with some impressive break-dancing moves and hoodies all round, this is a unique theatre experience. The audience is actively encouraged to “make some noise”, resulting in a carnival-like atmosphere that sometimes feels a little like a pantomime. Unlike a panto, however, there’s some really intelligent thought behind this piece, and it’s difficult not to get swept along in the party spirit.
Two young children, in trouble at school, decide to run away and find themselves in “the hoods”. While there, they meet the Landlord of the Ruff Endz Estate who promises to give them their bus fare home if they help him gather four gifts for his daughter Rap-On-Zel’s birthday. Eager to escape, they set about finding an ipod white as milk, a hoodie red as blood, weave as yellow as corn and trainers as pure as gold. Sure enough, mirroring the Sondheim, all these items can be found in the possession of the characters whose dramatic lives are playing out in the surrounding woods, or in this case, hoods. In a twist on the original, these characters are D-list celebrity, music producing, record spinning, rapping versions of their fairytale selves, DJ Spinderella and Lil Red being two examples.
A hit at Edinburgh for the past two years, Into the Hoods has graduated to the West End pretty well, while retaining its Fringe roots and charm. An opening monologue of poetry and improvisation from an artist called Mr Gee sets the tone - it feels a little like an open mic night. The subsequent narrative is largely played out through dance, with all speech pre-recorded and boomed out through loud speakers.
Kate Prince’s excellent choreography and direction ensure that the dance onslaught is varied enough to hold your attention for the full 90 minutes, and the cast are all top-notch movers. An energetic curtain call proves that even the ensemble members possess jaw-dropping skills that defy all laws of gravity and biology. Teneisha Bonner has a particularly impressive solo combining ballet and modern dance.
This is unconventional theatre made for an unconventional and – on the night I attended, vociferous – audience, and you can’t help but feel the young company’s real sense of achievement.
- Kate Jackson