Writer Ed King / Photographer Graeme Braidwood
The idea of a Birmingham REP production about grime music raises a few questions and eyebrows. How is the well-established theatre, home of traditional and touring shows, going to tackle the birth of an inner-city musical phenomenon?
But seeing the name Casey Bailey behind the production – Birmingham’s current poet laureate and a talented writer/poet/spoken word artist – was enough to bring a packed house to the preview night. We snake into The Door theatre towards the sounds of the aptly named character DJ (Audrey Allen).
Am I coming into a theatre or a nightclub…? As it turns out, both.
The titular protagonist GrimeBoy (Keiren Hamilton-Amos) is an upcoming MC, pent on building a name in a scene where reputation is everything. His counterpart is Blue (Alexander Lobo Moreno) a young artist with a hot temper who is fighting in the literal sense of the word to make a name for himself too.
The young men become friends and move from musical rivals to partners, with GrimeBoy trying to stymy Blue’s self-destructive anger – an emotion he knows only too well for the wrong reasons – and mould the man from the boy.
The story is not a straight homage to Wiley or Stormzy, but a sensitive and acute look at a world where young black men are still charged and convicted without evidence or trial. Metaphorically and literally.
It’s about anger, justified and unjust, and the ever present dangers of rampant ambition and a competitive, violent youth culture.
The narrative is raw, unflinching, unpatronising, and at parts wonderfully witty – delivered by a small cast of four, on a stripped-back set with the clever use of speaker stacks that are transformed into a club, a bedroom, and even a hospital.
All the actors are pivotal in telling the story, but Blue and GrimeBoy are in essence two sides of the same coin – one thrown repeatedly in the air with an ever uncertain outcome.
After presenting a hard attitude we see Blue’s anger masks a frightened vulnerability, which ebbs out of the character with perfect timing. Whilst GrimeBoy’s wise words and steady hand ultimately come from a dark history that is sadly set to repeat itself.
GrimeBoy is an exceptional piece of work, deftly handled by the impressive Casey Bailey – who has delivered not only a beautiful piece of theatre, but a narrative that will raise important questions for the environments certain young people endure and how they choose to react to them.
Is reputation and self image worth dying for? Is fame success? Is money a cure? And before the curtain comes down you may not have all the answers but at least questions have been raised.
GrimeBoy (cypher) – written by Casey Bailey
GrimeBoy was written by Casey Bailey and directed by The Rep’s Associate Director Madeleine Kludje.
GrimeBoy runs at Birmingham Rep from 22 – 30 April. For more information and online booking visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/grimeboy