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The Rebel Cell (Tour - Manchester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Where: Manchester
Venue: Contact

Mud Sun is a mis-matched hip-hop duo.Baba Brinkman is a bread-head believing in competitive capitalism and enjoying its rewards to the extent he is willing to allow Tescos to use the duo’s tunes. Dizraeli is an idealistic socialist who believes in the power of his music to influence change.

As Britain slides into a totalitarian state the duo find themselves on opposite sides of the law. Dizraeli is a revolutionary leader and his former friend used by the authorities to trick him into revealing the location of his rebel cell.

The narrative around which The Rebel Cell is constructed is flimsy and does not stand up to analysis. The details we are given seem more like one-line jokes than an attempt to build a credible alternative society. The idea of the BBC and the BNP merging is used to suggest an extremist culture but really no political party would allow a rival such a relationship with the country’s main broadcaster. For a rebel leader Dizraeli is vague with his beliefs more along hippy lines of self-sufficiency than cultural change.

The success of the play lies more in a pair of terrific performances than the rather weak story. The fiery and powerful hip-hop performances clearly define the characters of Baba Brinkman and Dizraeli. Although both undertake other parts as well it is the central roles in which they have their greatest success performing the hip-hop rhymes clearly and with great passion against stirring background music.
The word play is excellent. At one point the duo improvise a rap based upon suggestions from the audience covering such unlikely subjects as the political elite, recycling, and, er, Manchester City FC. It works surprisingly well. In one excellent sequence the conversation between the two former friends slides into a kind of blank verse hip-hop duet as if to illustrate the lasting bonds between them despite their political differences. It is such a success that you hope the duo might attempt something more ambitious in the future and perhaps construct an entire play in that style.

There are only two drawbacks to the performances. Firstly, the speed of delivery inevitably reduces the ability of the audience to appreciate fully the arguments and humour. No sooner have you begun to think through a line of reasoning or appreciate a remark than another arrives and distracts you. The second drawback is nothing to do with the performers really but they rely heavily on audience participation to create the atmosphere of a hip-hop gig and, on the first night; the level of attendance was sparse. Nevertheless they did well at securing an enthusiastic response from the few present.

Although not entirely successful as a narrative, The Rebel Cell contains a pair of excellent performances and deserves a wider audience.

- Dave Cunningham


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