Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Furiously beautiful to watch

THE REBEL CELL

Dizraeli and Baba Brinkman , Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh Fringe , August-18-08
THE REBEL CELL by Dizraeli and Baba Brinkman Had I read further on when looking at the synopsis for ‘The Rebel Cell’, further than the interesting-sounding “An accused terrorist and a journalist clash words” and the intriguing “part hilarious Socratic dialogue”, had I noticed that I’d failed to register “part 8 Mile battle” and the words “BBC Slam Champion” and “Rap Canterbury Tales” attached to the respective author/performers, had I known that I was entering what was essentially a hip-hop debating chamber, I might have reconsidered requesting a ticket for what is an increasingly buzzy show at this year’s Fringe. However, sometimes the fates conspire against us for good, and this was certainly the case with Dizraeli and Baba Brinkman’s show ‘The Rebel Cell’, which has been nominated for a Fringe First.

Taking as its central premise a totalitarian crackdown on anything that questions the state, where terrorism is very easy to commit without knowing, in an England of 2013, one year after six hundred people were killed in terrorist attacks on the London Olympics, the show centres around ‘convicted terrorist’ Dizraeli and his interview with friend and journalist Baba Brinkman. Through rap battles, freeform rhyme, spoken word poetry and dub-style musings, they spar over what is the best way to effect change in society – from within its own channels, or from outside, in a display of radicalism terrifying to those comfortable in power?

I must confess, I did think I was going to detest this. The incredibly energetic Dizraeli opened the show wearing but a large, cylindrical plastic drum strapped to himself, singing and rhyming on the themes of his style of radicalism in a display which smacked of sensationalism, while Baba Brinkman emerged afterwards to don a wig and anchor the news from the new BNPBC TV channel in a manner which, however satirical, still seemed ever so slightly the wrong side of naïve. I was, however, somewhat surprised, increasingly pleasantly so, by how wrong I was.

Dizraeli’s first monologue-proper was absolutely joyous to hear – rich of tone, earnest without being painfully worthy and a rhyme-fest that made this an artistic endeavour which translated into a piece of grand oratory for the 21st century. His constant eye contact with audience members was galvanizing rather than discomfiting – it was preachy, it was a sermon, but it was fascinating to hear.

Brinkman operates in a different mode, often going worryingly close to the less-desirable excesses of agit-prop, and there was something slightly simplistic about elements of his delivery at times, but as a performer and a literary soul, his mind rages, close to overload, and he and Dizraeli spark together in a constantly exciting, edge-of-the seat manner. Their re-creation of a session at Glastonbury turned into a fascinating, high-minded but utterly accessible political lecture for the hip-hop generation – Baba the zealous voice of liberal ‘reason’, Dizraeli almost messianic in his commitment. The show built, through flashbacks interspersed with the increasingly tense interview between the imprisoned Dizraeli and the now-establishment Brinkman, to a final battlesque overlap sequence which was both excoriating and moving and shocking and furiously beautiful to watch.

These men are artists of the Scholarly Street – catch them while you can

Reviewed by: Paddy Cooper

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