By Sam Bleazard
From the opening strains of Portishead’s “Roads” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, we’re taken into a fairy-tale on the Ruff Endz estate, via Beanstalk Towers and down a mix-tape rabbit hole.
Two preppy kids in school uniforms wander mistakenly off the beaten track and are drawn into tower block life, which is bossed by the Landlord and the Wolf. Duwane Taylor brings considerable bite once more in the latter role (as one of the choreographers on this production) – following his star turn in Some Like It Hip-Hop. Our heroine Lil Red (Riding Hood) gets trapped into his world of suffocating contracts and flirts with the seedier, more materialistic side of fame, while boyfriend to be Jaxx can’t pay his rent, ending up hungry and homeless at the hands of the sinister Landlord.
The story ostensibly revolves around Lil Red but the spotlight falls on the many and not the few with Spinderella, Rap-On-Zel and Fairy G – the latter brings the house down with her golden wings routine – to name but three. There are no weak links in the ZooNation chain, and what started with talents like Taneisha Bonner, Tommy Franzen and Sacha Chang almost a decade ago, has been carried on by the current crop of talent in Natasha Gooden, Corey Culverwell and Lucinda Wessels.
As we get further into The Hoods there’s sly humour, innovation and moments of genuine poignancy, not to mention knowing nods to more traditional forms. These kids can lock and pop but they can also jump jive with the best of them, and even breathe new life into Nat King Cole’s “Let There Be Love”. ZooNation can no longer be considered new kids on the block, as a residency in Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House will attest, but the freshness, fun and edge are still there.
The court jester and clown Prince is, well in fact, a character called Prince – a lover man and unknowing comedian swept up in a world of Bobby Brown and Boyz II Men narratives. The Playa sequence is played for maximum laughs and in Daryl Baker ZooNation has discovered someone whose talent extends beyond dance. A love triangle involving the Prince, Spinderella and Rap-On-Zel are cheeky and raucous but always family friendly.
The sheer number of characters and dance content in the first half may be a lot for younger children in the audience to take in, but a number of quirky sequences in the second half, including a mid-air matrix style slow-mo’ fight between Jaxx and the Giant – which involves skateboards, a mobile phone and a rubber duck – hold everyone’s attention.
The epilogue sees the cast re-appear dressed all in black with a backdrop of a moon rising slowly behind a tower block. The message seems to be that in estates all over the country there are kids with hopes, dreams and talent craving a platform to express themselves.
It’s moments of imagination and pathos like these that elevate ZooNation into a rarefied space. Kate Prince is a story-teller who seems to give her audience, especially children, enough credit to figure it out for themselves. The dancing is complex and visceral, the energy is always high, and the enthusiasm of the ensemble is completely infectious. The ovation was not only standing, it was dancing.
If Mum and Dad liked the Fatback Band and James Brown, but the kids like hip-hop with a krunk-clique, then this is the show for you. So called taste-makers of the world take note, Britain’s got talent.
Into The Hoods is showing at the Peacock Theatre from 23rd October to 14th November. For further information and to book tickets click here