Grimeboy starts off with a deceptive lightness as a coming-of-age story sprinkled with humour, comical male braggadocio and thumping bass. The stage is decked out with speakers and a DJ (Auden Allen) mixes at his turntable. It is a sign that Casey Bailey’s gritty, moving play will come heavily laden with the sounds of grime.
So it does, with its three actors telling the story partly through “spitting” lyrics, all of them as talented at rapping as each other. Directed by Madeleine Kludje, the story revolves around two aspiring grime MCs – Grimeboy (Keiren Hamilton-Amos) and his protege Blue (Alexander Lobo Moreno). They begin as adversaries at a grime battle but soon become firm allies.
Their trajectory takes in the tenderness of young male friendship and explores the culture of knife crime within their world, channelled through the backstory of Jay (Corey Weekes), with its cyclical violence and vendetta.
It is not as penetrating or complicated in its exploration of identity as Debris Stevenson’s bigger, more sophisticated grime musical, Poet in da Corner, but it has an emotional honesty and some thrilling theatrical moments. The music (composed by Auden Allen) is infectious, with fast lyrics and thumping bass; the actors’ choreographed movements in the fight scenes are also deft and there is very striking lighting (LX design by Ryan Joseph Stafford). Ebrahim Nazier’s set of giant speakers is moved around by the characters in inventive ways, too.
The story has a rather predicable arc and the script is heavy-handed and rough around the edges at times. The first part of the show lacks tension but the production gets better as it goes along, gathering immense moments of power.
Rooted in local issues and lives, it is utterly refreshing to see this kind of theatre, spoken with its own poetic, streetwise argot. It is subtle yet strong in its study of contemporary Black British male identity and the bind in which its characters are placed. As one vulnerably sings: “We are told to believe guys with hoods are the scary ones and not the scared.”