Legend of Mike Smith

I missed the press night for Soweto Kinch’s Legend of Mike Smith in The Studio at The REP / Library of Birmingham and I’m glad I did. That night must have been ‘an event’, celebrating both the birth of a show and a venue, I was pleased to be able to concentrate on the show, which I really enjoyed.

The show is bold and bursting with energy. Though drum, bass and saxophone are pushed to the back of the set their live music is at the heart of the show and power it on. The fact the music was composed as an album before coming to the stage ensures it has a rare depth and richness. At times this felt like a Jazz/Hip-Hop crossover gig that had crossed over once more into the theatre, which made it an exciting experience. Jonzi D’s playful choreography and simple direction meshed with the music and Nat Jones’ projections, which provide all the setting and a certain amount of the narrative complete a strongly coherent aesthetic.

Jones’ bold cartoon graphics reflect the show’s simplistic side. Aspiring musician Mike Smith receives a call from a record company exec., if he can deliver a track with sufficiently strong hooks and deliver it with the right look and attitude to her bosses the next day they could make him the next big thing. There ensues a battle for Smith’s soul between two cartoon super-beings and pursuit of this ultimate track becomes dogged by the seven deadly sins. The structure is simple as each sin gets its musical, visual treatment, but simple is also strong. The simple strength of the structure allows the team the latitude to go off on diversions and these diversions are richly full of ideas, perhaps most notably Kinch’s playful, punning, rhyming lyrical flow, which zooms past at a satisfying rate, pauses for the hooks of the choruses before scooting on again. The irony of Smith’s struggle to find the ultimate hook is that through his quest he generates at least seven other hooks, perhaps more true to himself.

Soweto Kinch displaying Renaissance tendencies plays sax, raps and dances through most of the piece but he is more than ably supported by a highly engaging young cast who play Smith in both his everyday and alternate state.

It doesn’t all work, the audience ‘participation’ elements seem to expose a strain between the show’s concept and context, but mostly it’s great. I’d like to thoroughly recommend it but if you think you may have your evening ruined were a member of the cast to come off the stage and thrust himself at you then maybe you should be a bit cautious. A small audience could leave you a rather exposed and listening into the post-show discussion there’s the possibility that body language suggesting you’re really not keen on the idea may only serve to mark you out for attention. Maybe you should settle for buying the album, which would be a shame as hearing the album live in its ‘enhanced’ theatrical form is a treat.

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