Lori-analytical & Bashy, The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company Richard II LIVE CREDIT Alistair Veryard
With a dashiki and high top trainer wearing king, a sword fight swapped for a rap battle and a MOBO award winning artistic director, this can only be Hip Hop Shakespeare’s latest production of Richard II. Founded by artistic director Akala in 2009, the company has gone on to bring their blend of the two genres to audiences up and down the country and broken down many young people’s preconceptions of Shakespeare through their education programmes.
Akala, The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company Richard II LIVE CREDIT Alistair Veryard
Having toured in October last year, this production of Shakespeare’s first history play has been updated with vivid projections of city scapes, lavish castles and shaky ships by Nathan ‘Soopanatural’ Jones. Grime stars Bashy and Lady Leshurr also now join Akala in attracting their own fan bases, as well as Noel Clarke’s first choice of actor Femi Oyeniran who stars as John of Gaunt.
Young talents Ryan ‘Deacon’ Henry as Mowbray and Femi Wilhelms as Bolingbroke set the standard high from the beginning with an all absorbing rap battle. A mix of the original script and devised lyrics are used to tell the story, with the live band and vocalists Josh Osho and Niles Asheber Hailstones often steal the show as they accompany the rappers in songs reflecting themes of the play.
Lady Leshurr brings Shakespeare right up to date, rapping about riding or dying for her King and stating in a Beyonce-esque tone ‘a King is not a King without his Queen’.
While it’s a brilliant concept and is sure to make many think twice about disregarding Shakespeare as irrelevant and outdated, a stronger format and slicker structure is needed to take the production to the next level as the cast jump between their own London and Birmingham accents, to well-spoken Shakespearean English with a few West Indian outbursts.
Full Cast The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company Richard II LIVE CREDIT Alistair Veryard
More confusion is caused when references to being in England are kept in the play while actors sport traditional African clothes and Akala’s Jamaican-British fused Union Jack flag flies proudly above the performers’ heads. Femi Wilhelms outshines most of the cast with his compelling take on Bolingbroke and as he is crowned Henry IV in the final scene, he will hopefully get the chance to shine further if the company has any plans to take on Shakespeare’s next play in the series, Henry VI.