Poet in da Corner, Royal Court

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by Laura Kressly

At the start of the millennium, Deborah is a teenager living on the edge of East London with her silent father and zealous Mormon mother. She feels suffocated by religion when she starts secondary school. But as she gets stuck into this new world, she meets Vyper and discovers Dizzee Rascal. Once her mind and her talent are unlocked by these two forces, her life is irrevocably changed for better and worse.

Now known as Debris Stevenson – the MC name Vyper gave her at school – she stages her true story of growing up as what is a basically an autobiographical Grime musical or gig-theatre piece. Typical of many new musicals, the book is packed full of great themes that aren’t explored as fully as they could be. In this case, her relationship with her mother and Mormonism is at the centre, with her school life and her relationships with her peers and music taking a much more secondary role. The reasons for the character Deborah’s choices aren’t always fully clear, though her discontent certainly is.

Despite some structural shortcomings and a plot that doesn’t always thoroughly connect its main points to each other, this show has fire in its belly that needs to be in front of audiences. Privilege, race relations, class and mobility are bluntly confronted, as they need to be in today’s current climate. The audience’s responses provide a snapshot of the disparity between different races’ experiences – black audience members cheer when Vyper, a black man, calls out Deborah’s privilege and reminds her she wouldn’t have become as successful as she has if she wasn’t white. The more stereotypical Royal Court crowd (old, white and posh) are tangibly uncomfortable. Good.

The grassroots messiness of the script, though not dramaturgically sophisticated according to theatrical conventions created by white men, overflows with passion, anger and joy. It’s unashamed challenge to the literary canon (again, mostly composed of white men) gives this show its indisputable value and reminds us that the patriarchy must fall.

Poet in da Corner runs through 6 October.

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