Touring – reviewed at Royal Court Theatre, London
Modern storytelling is ever-changing but the blueprint often stays the same, with Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov usually being the playwrights we are told to use as inspiration. In Poet in da Corner, Debris Stevenson challenges this and chooses to use Dizzee Rascal’s debut album as the framework for her personal coming-of-age tale.
Stevenson makes the importance of music clear from the get go: “Grime changed my life, more than my two first class degrees, it gave me permission.” From here, we go on a loud, fast, energetic and spirited journey through Stevenson’s life from a dyslexic teen trapped in a mormon household, to an independent, strong and self-aware woman.
This is an incredibly multi-layered show which is so much more than just a celebration of grime. Instead it’s an impactful look at upbringing, freedom, self-expression and privilege. Stevenson freely studies and exerts herself, whilst also investigating theatrical expression as a genre and form.
There’s breaking of the fourth wall, interesting use of props, thought-provoking lighting and exceptional movement. The energy is at peak levels throughout and the gig like atmosphere in the Royal Court is something to behold. Reminiscent at times of Arinzé Kene’s Misty, this is the way theatre should be evolving to attract new audiences and tell stories in unique ways.
As well as writing the show, Stevenson’s performance is exceptional; her passion for grime is instantly infectious and becomes universal almost as if her story is ours. I suppose in ways it is, as the universality of music is what makes it so special, but it’s still masterful how Stevenson is able to unify a room of individuals so expertly, through her mile a mile performance.
Alongside Stevenson are Jammz (co-writer of the show), Stacy Abalogun and Kirubel Belay. The quad give amazingly agile performances both in vocal and physical terms. It’s amazing to witness such fast action which flits between humour and intensity so seamlessly. If you want a celebration of grime and a true example of self-expression, this is the show for you.
The entire seventy minute show feels like a pan on the boil, continuously moving and flowing and engaging. Poet in da Corner is funny, truthful, inventive and really worth seeing.
Poet in da Corner runs at the Royal Court until 22 February and then tours the UK