MERRYVILLE by HighRise Theatre at Camden People's Theatre


Reviewer's Rating

HighRise Theatre are a company whose work is all about reaching out to Britain’s forgotten communities. Their latest show, Merryville, is a grime concept concert, and is the recipient of the Camden People Theatre’s BAME Seed Commission and Cardboard Citizens Home Truths Young Company Bursary.

Set in 2020 in the basement of the last “affordable” housing block in London – it presents a dystopian vision of a post-Brexit broken Britain: inflation and the cost of living have risen, affordable housing has become a thing of the past, and (horror of horrors) Theresa May has entered into a second term of office. Rappers Dr Green Fingers and Dustin Roads give us a break down of what’s been happening over the past ten years through a series of grime numbers, rap battles and comedy skits.

It’s a meeting between a performed concept album and a play, with an emphasis on the former. Mostly, this genre-fusion really works: it’s noisy and immediate; it’s in a language that people understand, and that comes out of the present; and it has the capacity to appeal to people who would normally not go near a theatre (like my younger brother, who would never see a play but who I probably could convince to come and see this…).

Sometimes, being neither fully a gig nor fully a play creates problems, as it means that occasionally the narrative feels semi-committed. There were moments when I wished that Merryville would either fully immerse itself in the story being told, or drop the pretence of actually being set in a basement in 2020 and present the whole thing more knowingly as a conceit.

I also had some issues with the prognosis that this show has to offer (which is inevitable for anything brave enough to try and predict the future…).

In particular, I wasn’t sure about the focus on inflation. Surely inflation is a lesser evil than May’s continuing commitment to austerity and foreseeable cuts to services? Yes, inflation is inevitable and it will hit the poorest hardest. But it is cuts to government spending (which fear of inflation runs the risk of legitimizing) that will surely hurt the most.

I was also left feeling a bit hesitant about the assumption that Brexit Britain will be full of protest, civil unrest and riot control units. The disagreement at the end of Merryville about whether violent insurrection or peaceful protest are the solution seems to be jumping the gun a bit (no pun intended). Surely apathy and reactionary politics are a more likely byproduct of increasing inequality and privation – if present trends are anything to go by?

But I’m splitting hairs. Merryville is a brave, funny, original, anarchic and vitally important piece of work.