Between The Lines by MC Jammz and Meteyard – review

“A play that pulsates with life… a celebration of artistic expression and the power of community”
New Diorama Theatre
Review by: Mark Arbouine
afridiziak ratings
Published: Sunday 12 May 2024, 08::00am

Between The Lines by MC Jammz and Meteyard  (c)  Ali Wright
Between The Lines by MC Jammz and Meteyard (c) Ali Wright

As someone whose musical tastes typically lean towards more traditional genres, I was intrigued and slightly apprehensive about how much I would enjoy watching Between The Lines, a play centred around a pirate grime radio station in the mid-2000s. However, what unfolded was a gripping narrative that transcended musical preference, delving into themes of the black British experience, freedom of expression and the power of community.

Co-written by grime MC Jammz and James Meteyard and directed with a sure hand by Maggie NorrisBetween The Lines is takes the audience to noughties Hackney in the clandestine world of underground grime radio where rebel DJs risked falling foul of the authorities to broadcast their music an appreciative audience.

At the heart of this story is a group of individuals united by their love for the music, their community and each other. They are headed by Hughbert (Andrew Brown) father to Alpha (Aliaano El-Ali) and Aisha (Anais Lone) and also a patriarch to the self-styled Shut Down Crew, who together run Blaze FM, their pirate radio station which operates from Hughbert’s front room.

Radio host Pritstick (Marcus Reiss) takes calls from the listening public in between playing music which sometimes is in the form on vinyl records and sometimes live performances from other members of the crew.

Even though grime itself isn’t necessarily my favourite form of music, the play did an amazing job of showcasing its power and cultural significance. The energy, the rapid-fire wordplay and the pulsating beats were brought to life by the cast in a way that even I could appreciate. Anais Lone and Aliaano El-Ali deliver powerhouse performances, their voices radiating strength and belief as they navigate the challenges of supporting her father while trying to deal with other issues in their lives.

The play is also punctuated by electrifying performances by fellow Shut Down Crew members Jason (Alexander Lobo Moreno) and Stephen (Jake Walden) who drop into grime tunes that pound with raw emotion and social defiance and highlight grime’s unique power to move and inspire.

The set design by Tina Torbey conveys a sense of the cramped conditions in which they operate. The focus is a desk supporting two turntables which in the second act, are swapped for a laptop to convey the passage of time during a period which saw the transition to music being stored digitally.

The rest of the set consisted of walls which created a backdrop of tower blocks which at various points during the play doubled as a screen on which bits of newsreel were played, beginning with President George W. Bush responding to the 9/11 Twin Towers terrorist attack and Tony Blair talking about the war on terror which provided the lead into the opening scene of the play set shortly after the London bombings in 2005.

Between The Lines by MC Jammz and Meteyard  (c)  Ali Wright
Between The Lines by MC Jammz and Meteyard (c) Ali Wright

The play is cleverly weaved around several historical news events. Hughbert is revealed to have been involved in the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots in Tottenham and was wanted for questioning by the police. Later we discover he is a victim of the Windrush scandal who doesn’t have the correct paperwork to remain in the UK and bringing events right up to date, a member of the Blaze FM radio crew is killed in a knife attack which sadly is still too common in modern day London.

Ultimately, Between The Lines is a play that pulsates with life. It’s a celebration of artistic expression, the power of community, and the fight to be heard, even when the odds are stacked against you. While I may not be a convert to grime music just yet, I left the theatre thoroughly impressed by this production and its talented cast and crew.

Need to know: Between the Lines plays at New Diorama Theatre until 1 June 2024