“A show of such blazing energy and joyous ingenuity you scarcely ponder on the apparent madness of trying to marry Folk Dance and Hip Hop”
Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames
15th Nov 2012
4 out of 5 stars
Morris dancers in the foyer beforehand, the cast racing offstage to perform an unexpected encore in the bar afterwards – and, in between, a full-on show of such blazing energy and joyous ingenuity you scarcely ponder on the apparent madness of trying to marry folk dance and hip hop.
With colour, verve and some jaw-dropping acrobatics, The Lock In, the startlingly ambitious brainchild of Damien Barber – front man with leading UK folk band the Demon Barbers – demonstrates that the two seemingly alien art forms have plenty in common. Nearly two hundred years, the Atlantic Ocean and an entire culture may separate the roots of clog dancing in the mills of Lancashire during the Industrial Revolution and the b-boying that emerged among the African American and Latino communities in New York in the 1970s and ’80s, but the vivid demonstration of their surprisingly natural parallels as expressive demonstrations of street culture are core elements in this compellingly upbeat show.
It opens with the wail of a police siren as three youths break into a deserted bar apparently intent on trouble. Flying around the stage, they discover a pewter tankard – one of several witty allusions to the clichés that still surround English folk music – and its Aladdin-esque magic unleashes the full, weird wonder of English traditional dance, as strangely horned creatures emerge through the audience, intimidatingly circling the hip hop crew before engaging them in assorted dance-offs and comedy skits, with plenty of fiery, beat-driven music.
It’s a thin premise for a dance extravaganza, but the performers’ innovative routines and relentless spirit carry you along as they hurtle from breakneck rapper sword-dancing performed with billiard cues to the sort of limb-bending somersaults normally confined to a circus.
One of the stars is Grace Savage, a champion beatboxer whose extraordinary oral effects are not only a mesmerising focal point, but provide a very human force to the hip hop connections. Dogan Mehmet, too, is an imposing, charismatic presence, both as singer and an impressively versatile fiddle player; while Barber himself is constantly central to the action, whether consumed by dance frenzy, singing the Demon Barbers “hit” Captain Ward or belting out a punkish, knockabout, breakdancing Three Drunken Maidens with one of the hip hop crew. Some of the comedy grates, but the feel-good factor and sheer dynamism of the show swiftly obliterates any shortcomings.