Think you don’t like hip hop? Think again…
When one of my friends told me I had to go and see ZooNation, I was a bit sceptical, to say the least – it’s really not my sort of thing. But I’m always happy to be proved wrong (where theatre’s concerned, anyway), so when I heard the company were coming back to the Orchard, I figured I’d give them a try. And I’m really glad I did.
Into The Hoods was ZooNation’s first full-length show back in 2006. Since then it’s become the West End’s first hip hop dance show, won What’s On Stage and Olivier Awards, and formed part of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations. Into The Hoods: Remixed is, as you might expect, a new, revamped version of the hit show; it follows two children on an adventure in the Ruff Endz Estate, where they must collect various items from a host of familiar characters… with a twist. Spinderella longs to be a DJ, if she can only get away from her ugly sisters. Singer Lil Red gets tricked into signing with Wolf, who runs Big Teef Records. Rap-on-Zel is kept locked up by her father, the landlord of Beanstalk Towers. And then there’s Jaxx, who lives in the basement (get it?).
As a company, ZooNation, led by director Kate Prince, aims to make hip hop accessible to a wider audience, and there’s no doubt from the enthusiastic crowd response that Into The Hoods does exactly that. Musical director DJ Walde’s soundtrack has something for everyone, covering decades and countless different styles; there’s even a Charleston segment at one point. Rewriting fairy tales for a new generation – the items the children are looking for include ‘an iPhone as white as milk and a hoodie as red as blood’ – the show skilfully intertwines them into a story that has romance, drama and plenty of humour (the retirement home routine is particularly brilliant) yet always remains completely family friendly. And the cast, who range in age from just 16 to 37, are not only incredibly talented, but have an irresistible energy that seems to have no limits. You get the feeling they could cheerfully go on all night – as could the audience.
There’s a fantastic family atmosphere up on stage; everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, and no one performer outshines anyone else. The ensemble numbers too are genuinely a joy to watch – there’s nothing better than sitting back and watching a company who work together so well. In the same way, the lighting, set and video backdrop all combine perfectly with the choreography to create a seamless, polished production that’s easy to follow and really great to look at.
I officially stand corrected; Into The Hoods is a fantastic show, whether or not you think of yourself as a hip hop fan. And ZooNation’s company ethos is also to be admired – they believe passionately in investing in young people, and run various projects specifically aimed at nurturing young talent. If the brilliant performers on stage tonight are anything to go by, they’re definitely doing something right.
Into The Hoods: Remixed is at the Orchard Theatre until 9th March.