It was an inspired idea to bring in Conrad Murray to compose the score for this adaptation of Alex Wheatle’s young adult novel. A specialist in beatboxing, Murray creates a sonic landscape that suits the teen quest story as perfectly as the colourful graffiti on Simon Kenny’s rotating turret of a set.
In theatrical terms the songs have flaws – the high-velocity raps are too dense to keep up with on afirst listen, while the R&B ballads are more reflective than dramatic – but they have an authenticity and energy that matches the fighting spirit of the story’s working-class heroes. They also play well to the show’s target audience in this second school-friendly co-production, after last year’s Noughts & Crosses, by Pilot Theatre and companies in Coventry, Derby and York.
Giving shape to Wheatle’s story, playwright Emteaz Hussain dedicates the first half to the mission undertaken by six youngsters to retrieve an incriminating mobile phone from a neighbouring estate, leaving us with a post-interval conundrum of how they will get home again. Barring a few introspective moments and a hasty tying-up of loose ends, she does a good job capturing the novel’s combination of charm and jeopardy – cute cooking tips one minute, knife attacks the next.
There are lively performances too, as the cast scamper up and around a set that morphs from street to bus to house party. Corey Campbell and Esther Richardson’s production, however, has more invention than finesse. With several key plotlines garbled, you have to rely on your memory of the novel to understand why a fight has broken out or a feud is simmering. The exuberance of the staging would benefit from clearer storytelling.