REVIEW: ZooNation’s ‘Some Like It Hip Hop’, Birmingham Hippodrome

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ZooNation’s smash-hit, Olivier Award-nominated production ‘Some Like It Hip Hop’ returns to the stage this autumn after thrilling audiences when it first opened in 2011. 

Written and directed by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Kate Prince, with original music by DJ Walde and Josh Cohen, the production fuses together themes from Billy Wilder’s ‘Some Like It Hot’ and William Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, resulting in a hilarious tale of love, mistaken identity, cross-dressing and revolution, told through the company’s trademark style of Hip Hop, comedy and physical theatre.

Set in a man’s world, where everything is created by men, for men, Jo-Jo and Kerri are secretaries. Their job is to support the male staff in their role, making sure they have everything they need to make their job easier. With no chance of promotion and no prospect of rising through the company’s ranks, the women prove they are more than capable of doing the men’s work, and frequently do so when the boss is not looking.

When they are caught with a book, however, both are fired, and turfed out onto the street, where life is tough. In order to get by, they disguise themselves as men and return to work, and the treatment they receive is outrageously, but unsurprisingly, different, as the two hilariously exaggerate their attempts at masculine behaviour in order to fit into the male dominated, testosterone-fuelled working environment. 

The narrative is one of great depth, the characters of a dimensional human complexity. Told through a mixture of rhyming spoken word, original composition and dance, both story and character bear a great arc, and flourish and develop as the show progresses. 

The cast of singers, dancers and musicians give outstanding performances, their energy never once faltering through the two-hour long show. The singers and beatboxers demonstrate great range and vocal ability, the dancers amaze with their fantastically flawless movement – sharp, strong, precise and powerful. Each of them, through the voice or movement, tells a story, radiating characterisation, emotion and expression.

Acting as antagonist, the boss is a tyrannical, dictatorial figure, whose imposing authority and powerful presence is somewhat menacing. After the death of his wife, he shut off the sun, and with it, extinguished the light in his life, and therefore that in the lives of his staff. Darkness reigns, hearts are hardened, and the boss governs his staff under a strict, regimental routine. Like a master puppeteer, he controls their movements. Books are banned, his staff kept in the dark, and those that do not comply with his rules will be kicked out.  

As books are smuggled into and shared out among the workforce, the staff revolt, forming an uprising that results in a wildly impressive hip hop battle. Locked in a choreographical conflict, the oppressed rise against the oppressors, fighting to let the light back in. Despite the dark undertones of the show’s messages, the sun certainly shines upon this illuminating production. 

With a particular focus on gender discrimination, gender inequality and sexual harassment in the workplace, this bold, feminist, activist production seeks to expose these wrongful acts, calling for gender equality, female empowerment, and the equal education and emancipation of all. 

With these serious themes respectfully addressed, the narrative choreography and descriptive movement ensures that the characters, including, especially, the women, are seen AND heard. All characters are given a voice. The invisible become the invincible.

‘Some Like It Hip Hop’ is magnificent, a genius production that dazzles with inventive, innovative artistry. Electrifyingly, explosively brilliant, this is performance at its popping, locking, dropping, hip hopping best.

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