The BAC Beatbox Academy has been running at the Battersea Arts Centre for 10 years. It’s a free session for young people which nurtures vocal skills such as beatboxing and spoken word of all types. For the last two years they have been working on the gig theatre which is Frankenstein: How to make a Monster, and this week was the opening night. I don’t care what story they adapt next, or whether they take their charming wit and talent and inject it into the phone book, I want to be there. This group is absolutely magic. From the minute you step into the room, you are greeted warmly by one if not more of the performers on stage, and the vibe in the room continues throughout the evening until you leave with an aching face of too much smiling and a feeling of happy deep down in your chest.
It is not all laughs and jokes though. The cast members, who devised as well as perform the show, take the classic Frankenstein story and they question what makes a modern-day monster, and look at some of the modern day pressures like social media, bullying and how your appearance is always judged. Every minute of the too-short fifty minutes is used wisely – no preaching, no sermons – and they take the audience with them at every point. It is a totally inclusive performance: we are all invited to share the journey, to take photographs or video, and to get up and dance (which we all do gladly when we suddenly find ourselves in a rave). None of that elitist stuff here, this is a show to be experienced fully and to be enjoyed. At one point the loud shout of ‘’Oh my God!’’ by one of the members of the audience who is literally gobsmacked at the sounds he is hearing rings very true with the rest of us, and elicits yet another communal belly laugh.
From inventive beatboxing to singing of almost heartbreaking beauty, you cannot look away for an instant. The lighting (designed by Sherry Coenen) is simple but effective, and the sound (Richard Robinson) is astonishing, particularly given the importance of sound in a show where every sound is made by somebody’s mouth. As for the beatboxing, it is quite extraordinary. It is hard to properly grasp the fact that there are no instruments or computers, it is all just noise made by humans. The six devisers/performers all need a mention as they all bring something special to the mix: Aminita (Aminita Francis) with her angelic voice; Glitch (Nadine Rose Johnson) who has vocals, beatbox skills and a wicked comic touch; Wiz-rd (Tyler Worthington), the youngest in the crew who plays the ‘genius’ Dr Frankenstein and who is impressive at both his beatboxing and lyrical delivery; Native (Nathaniel Forder-Staple) who is clearly an advanced vocal performer; Germane (Germane Marvel) who is a lyrical poet and rapper, and the incredible champion beatbox ABH (ABH Beatbox) who makes sounds with his mouth you will probably never have heard before!
You may not think you are a fan of beatbox. You may not be a fan of hip hop. Neither of these things matter. The members of the cast work their styles into tunes of all genres that we know – like beatbox versions of Show Me Love, I Feel Good or Stir it up – and then they wow us by adding in new, original songs with a beautiful lyric or a bassline you literally cannot believe. The style is not monotonous, quite the opposite, it feels special, like you could do anything with it.
Conrad Murray is the mentor and co-director (along with David Cumming) and he sits dead centre of the front row, both visibly and audibly enjoying it along with us. He comperes the beatbox battle at the end with some established beatboxers in the audience, and as director of the Beatbox Academy at BAC it is clearly his passion which inspires these young people and brings out the best in them. When he introduces the younger members of the group before the show proper starts, and gives them a turn to perform in front of a live audience, it feels like a glimpse of the beginning of one great big, positive adventure for these young kids.
hattydaze rating: *****/*****
Frankenstein: How to make a monster runs at the BAC until the 7th April (you would be a fool to miss it). For further details, see the website here. I reviewed the show for Miro Magazine, where this article was first published. Big thanks to all at Miro. Photos by me.