Poet in da Corner
Grime isn’t an isolated phenomenon, nor is it only relegated to one class or ethnic group. This specific music is more than a mode of expression; it channels the voices of those who are thought to be mute. Debris Stevenson tries to open up the grime world – and explain her own salvation story – by describing her life-changing encounter with Dizzee Rascal’s album Boy in da Corner. Dyslexic, bullied and restrained by tight family bonds, she immediately resonated with the music, which soon became her primary education for reading, sexuality and community. Alongside her brother, Debris has had trauma passed down to her in the form of God’s love by a Mormon mother who, in turn, was seeking refuge for herself in faith. The suffocating Mormon rules pushed the girl more and more towards researching the freedom and discovery of her peers’ world.
Electronic music and its magnetic lyrics are at the centre of Poet in da Corner, with dance and humour added to the mix. The varied performance is delivered in a lightened and smooth way, perfectly encapsulated in the short running time. The rhythm between the genre lyrics and poetry is hypnotising. The explosive character of Debris covers all areas both sonically and visually. The challenges and overcomings roll in one after another, almost elevating the protagonist to hero status. The set would be weakened if deprived of the active and funny exchanges between Stacy Abalogun, Kirubel Belay and Jammz, especially the latter, who is an energetic counterpart to the main character.
Threaded in between the accidents and events of the adolescent, there are heated themes that seem to pass by a bit overlooked. They are obviously embedded in the skin and movements of the girl, but there is a layer of grime that encompasses everything else, partially blunting the rest. They are components of a bigger picture, where grime is dominant and its transformative power is the main focus. This powerful presence – fresh, inspiring and new in theatre – risks feeling a bit too exclusive at times. The level of enjoyment, if sitting next to the right members of the audience, rises to euphoria when a sequence turns into a concert moment, but sometimes the grime scene almost encloses the whole performance into a bubble, one that is difficult to enter. The work remains a bit too closed in on itself, requiring more from the audience in order to make sense of it. But once you break through, the beats and Debris’s fierce personality are exhilarating.
Photos: Helen Murray
Poet in da Corner | Theatre review is at The Royal Court Theatre from 30th January until 22nd February 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.