Blake Remixed: Poetry with a Hip-hop twist

As an outlet for emerging and new work, the Furnace Festival programme at West Yorkshire Playhouse provides artists access to develop new ideas and performance work. Blake Remixed is a show that certainly adheres to the Furnace mantra, and the show itself contained many interesting elements that fused the world of hip-hop with the poetry of William Blake. With a small set, we are taken on the journey of rapper Testament as he guides us through parts of his life using devices such as multimedia and music fusion. With the help of filmed appearances from the likes of Jehst, Soweto Kinch, Schlomo and Ty, this unique form exemplified how new work can reinvent existing art forms such as poetry or even hip-hop within a performative framework.

Whilst the notion of hip-hop may connote a target audience of niche music fans, the form complimented the overall concept of Blake Remixed. Perhaps the first surprise was just how tightly entwined the two art forms were. From the outset, one would imagine that the use of hip-hop more as an accompanying score for the poetry of Blake; instead, both forms fused within the show‘s structure. The most interesting elements of this show were the effective transitions and appearances with film. This gave the performance more of a structure, which was needed at times. Testament gave a good one-man performance, but it was occasionally hard to decipher quite whom he was portraying. The concept of using the filmed appearances as a way to represent Blake’s Four Zoas as guidance through Testament’s life assisted in telling an effective story overall, but this didn’t forgive the overarching lack of structure.

Although the show’s concept was extremely appealing, the direction of the execution sometimes left the audience disappointment. Some parts of the humour felt uncomfortable and gave a nervous energy, whilst the lack of distinguishable character changes haltered the shows structure. Whilst this left spectators underwhelmed at time, the incorporation of live DJ Woody helped to keep the performance on a particular level of interest. Entering the auditorium to a live DJ session proved to create an exciting atmosphere ahead of the show, and throughout DJ Woody provided the audience with exciting beats and rhythms, which complimented the performativity of Testament.

Blake Remixed was developed in association with Furnace Festival before playing at the recent Fringe festival. It is clear that this sort of show would survive these venues, and the show’s overall concept whets the audiences’ appetite. However, due to the jagged structure, it’s easy to lose concentration. The music used on stage can only captivate the spectator for so long before the performance needed to take responsibility for the show’s impact. Testament and DJ Woody engage in an interesting performance with a unique concept, yet at times, it felt underdeveloped on the stage. The incorporation of filmed appearances provides a nod in the right direction, but the overall performance needed that something extra.

Mark McDougall

Image: Davenport.

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