The Broke 'n' Beat Collective @ Unity Theatre
Four microphones line an empty stage. It looks more like a gig than the set of a play and when the artists emerge, they’re playing themselves: a beat-boxer, a dancer, a singer and a puppeteer. The Broke ‘n’ Beat Collective are not here to act, but to tell the truth: what’s it like to be a young person in the UK today?
Urban scenes spring out of cardboard boxes to a live soundtrack of looped beats, hip-hop and poetry. Characters pop up out of nowhere, beautifully and skilfully brought to life as puppets. A hoodie, a ghettoblaster and a girl made of paper lay their souls bare, telling tales of hardship to a fascinated audience. It’s the absence of a human that makes them recognisable.
The word ‘gritty’ springs to mind but is cringeworthy – a word so overused to describe art that simply tells the truth about what life is like for our most disadvantaged communities. ‘Honest’ is a better fit. And yes, the stories are dark and upsetting, but they’re not helpless. Young people, played out as characters before us, are brave and resilient; they deserve our admiration, not our pity. The final track of the show leaves us with a message of hope: broke but not broken, beat but not beaten.
With The Broke ‘n’ Beat Collective, 20 Stories High and Theatre Rites have joined forces in a clever move to create a piece of youth theatre for an older audience. Never let it be said that youth theatre is just for the youth. As the Collective show us, youth theatre can be powerful, impressive and illuminating but, above all, important. Every young person should see this play, but every adult should too – especially the prime minister.
The Broke ‘n’ Beat Collective is touring the UK: click here for full tour dates.