Sunday, 4 June 2017

REVIEW: Last Night, by Benin City, as part of 'The. Last Word Festival' at the Roundhouse


I’m dubious going in to The Roundhouse’s Sackler Space. There are no seats and the dread that fills me when I think about 4th wall breaking, cringe worthy audience participation takes root in my stomach. The room was alive with chat and people seeing friends they knew and having a drink and then it occurred to me; I’m actually at a gig, well… sort of. 

Benin City are made up of drums, brass and three vocalists, Josh, Shanaz and Tom. They embody the spirit of club culture, they are young, they like to party and they have something to say. 

London is changing and it's had a big impact on the night life of The city: over the past five years the number of nightclubs in London has halved and Benin City's 'Last Night' centres around this very issue. 

‘Last Night’ is featured as a stand out performance for The Roundhouse's 'The Last Word Festival' tagged lined as 'where spoken word, theatre and gigs collide.’. It quickly became apparent there was more to this that meets the eye. I was nestled at the back, as the crowd grew and the group came on stage. It started with a spoken word introduction which set the scene nicely, telling us they will be covering eleven separate stories from the experiences of people who
were in and feeling the effect of the evaporating night-life culture and they did just that. 

Josh and Shenaz are two very talented spoken word artists, their command over rhythm and rhyme is structured and impassioned, which makes the audience really connect with what is being said; taking us on highs and lows of the night club like gatekeepers to little microcosms; each story a world of it’s own. 

The music, fantastically led by Tom Reaper, is interspersed with interviews from people who have been effected by the gentrification of certain areas. One interview explained how property developers are buying land near to clubs and then selling It off for a price, developing flats who’s residents then turn around and complain. This results in landlords who own the land the club is built on increasing rent to a point where the club has to close. It then hit me, this piece is about the negative effect gentrification is happening on the London night life scene and it’s quite sad. 

There is some theatricality to the gig. Rapped monologues, spoken word dialogues and even a small staged dance when a verbatim track spoke about how romance is ‘started in a night club and blossomed in the nightclub’ (It resembled west side story to a point). The lighting effected feeling and character, however any theatricality seemed to become forgotten to the latter part of the performance. Something that could have helped was making the transition between stories segue a bit more, I feel that would have make the performance a bit slicker and polished off the musicality to the piece. 

If this performance is the flagship for this festival then it will be a hit. It really
calls back to a time when theatre meant something and wasn’t scared to challenge society. As Benin City themselves said ‘Celebration is a kind of protest and dancing is a sort of riot’ and it certainly felt like it. 

You may not be able to see Benin City’s ‘Last Night’ again in this festival but you can see it on youtube: https://youtu.be/htXsMX8xCv4. If you’re a fan of spoken word then you really should check out the festival at The Roundhouse running from now until the 10th of June. 

Review by James-Lee Campbell

Rating: ★★★

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