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© Joyce Nicholls

Review: ‘Frankenstein: How To Make a Monster’ at Battersea Arts Centre

21 March 2019 Will Rathbone

London Calling spoke to Conrad Murray about Frankenstein, Battersea Arts Centre’s brilliant five-star co-production with their own BAC Beatbox Academy.

There’s something stirring down in Battersea, and it sounds like nothing you’ve heard before. Frankenstein: How To Make a Monster is the result of two years of workshops and rehearsals with members of the BAC Beatbox Academy, and the show takes Mary Shelley’s gothic horror classic and runs with it, fusing contemporary and universal themes with inspirational young talent and well constructed hip-hop grooves. Co-director Conrad Murray told us a bit about the project, and the Academy itself.
 

Image © Joyce Nicholls

Murray has been running the Academy for ten years, witnessing the project grow in stature to the point where they can headline Battersea Arts Centre’s Homegrown Festival with a three week run in the building’s newly refurbished Grand Hall. Initially, the project was aimed at “12-25 year olds, but over time people got older, and kept bringing their kids, so we expanded to 8-29. We take kids from all kinds of backgrounds: private schools, pupil referral units and everything in between. You don't need any equipment to start beatboxing, anyone can do it. If you can't afford music lessons, you can come and jam and show off your creativity. Over the years we’ve been performing at schools, theatres, bandstands, carparks, buses - you name it. It's pretty crazy, but it works. I’ve known some of the cast members for nine years, we’re a little family and I couldn't be prouder.”
 
The show is a powerful showcase for the collaborative power of the Academy, and the individual talents of the six performers - Aminita, Glitch, Wiz-rd, Native, Germane and champion beatboxer ABH. The show blends theatre, gig, soundscape and beatboxing, reflecting on modern concerns, such as social media saturation, and universal concepts like finding one’s voice and learning how to use it. The musical backdrop of heavy beats, witty lyricism and interlocking harmonies allows each performer to share centre stage, and it’s a credit to Murray and his co-director David Cummings that each performer’s personality comes through so clearly whilst always maintaining the strength of the ensemble.
 

Image © Joyce Nicholls

Murray explains that “the rehearsal process was one of improvisation and experimentation. We watched the movie and read parts of the book. We knew that it was going to be an episodic concept album from the start, but we never knew the monster that it would become! We’ve developed a tight practice of improvisation over the years, and this helped us as we took themes and wrote to them, jammed around and free-styled. I would suggest titles and emotions that the cast would write around, and we tweaked it as we went.”
 
Frankenstein is superb show, and the Academy will surely step up a gear as a result. Murray hopes that the show will have “a long life - Edinburgh and hopefully touring internationally. As for the wider Academy, we are always looking to collaborate and create new theatrical experiences. We have a lot in the pipeline: a collaboration with the Roundhouse, the BFI and others. The cast will be busy with that, plus their solo careers”. Frankenstein is certainly an apt title for the Academy’s biggest show yet - it looks set to unleash something truly spectacular on the world.

Frankenstein: How To Make a Monster runs at Battersea Arts Centre till 29 March
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