Poet In Da Corner, Royal Court Theatre
When I heard Poet In Da Corner – aka, a grime musical paying homage to Dizzee Rascal’s debut album ‘ Boy In Da Corner’, was coming back to the Royal Court after a successful run in 2018, I had to see it. Grime, in the legendary Royal Court?
Debris Stevenson’s play is an experience. Part spoken-word, part rap, part drama, part rave – it explores the impact of Grime music told through the eyes of, well, not your stereotypical grime fan: a white, lesbian, Mormon.
With its minimal yellow and black set, echoing Dizzee’s album cover, this show particularly entertains if you were a fan the days of the early 2000s UK Garage or Grime music scene. The brilliant music soundtrack by legendary producer Mikey J only adds to the feeling of nostalgia. However, the narrative is strong enough to hold the attention of a wider audience – regardless of music taste.
At its core, this is a rite of passage tale, following the journey of a teenage misfit, trying to find her place in scary world, navigating the obstacles of school playgrounds, friendship and love, which can resonate with us all.
What stands out are the performances – particularly from Stevenson. She raps and dances through out, contorting herself around the stage, using impressive physicality to represent key events in the narrative and to symbolise emotions.
Particularly poignant are the exchanges between Stevenson and her co-star Jammz, who plays SS Viper, an old friend, and MC from the estate near where she grew up. As his introduction, SS Vyper calls out from the audience, where he is posing as a theatre goer. In a ‘breaking of the 4th wall’ moment, he shouts that Debris has stolen his lyrics and is passing them off as her own to make her play. SS Vyper then comes down to the stage, where Debris tries to justify her actions, and explain her story – the scenes that follow make up the narrative of the play. The play shifts in and out of present and past – frequently returning to present day where she and SS Vyper engage in a heated debate about the validity of having a white girl at the centre of a Grime story.
Jammz – a grime MC himself, plays the part of SS Vyper well. Particularly, in portraying his frustration that Debris, a white girl – who passes when she wants as ‘ethnically ambiguous’ – is given this amazing platform to celebrate grime, when the working-class black boys, of whom mostly created the scene – have been routinely denied mainstream platforms, faced censorship, have had their shows shut down by the authorities.
Stevenson’s highlighting of these issues is needed, but I’m not sure if she fully explores or resolves this. Rather, the conversation of cultural appropriation seems to go round in circles. Perhaps that’s the point – the line between celebration and appropriation isn’t clear cut; it shifts and changes depending on subjective experiences. Perhaps Stevenson herself is unsure or conflicted.
What is clear is that that Poet in Da Corner has brought to the Royal Court an entertaining, grime-music homage – for that alone, and for the tough, uncomfortable questions it raises, makes it worth a watch.
Until Saturday Feb 22. Details and tickets: https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/poetindacorner/