Play: Poet in Da Corner
Playwright: Debris Stevenson
Director: Ola Ince
Theatre: Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
Review by Cherise Lopes-Baker
In this semi-autobiographical work presented through Grime performances, Debris Stevenson invites us into her childhood, and the role Grime has played in her identity exploration. Set in flashbacks interspersed with a meta-aware present day, this play confronts struggles of appropriation and acknowledgement.
As an East London, white, dyslexic, working class Mormon, Debra struggles to fit in at school, and home is no reprieve. Her fanatically religious mother, played to hyper and comedic perfection by Cassie Clare, turns home into a prison, installing bars and constraints around anything that strays from the Mormon path.
Debra cuts a lonely and awkward figure across this stage of her life. Enter SS Vyper, a black working class Grimes artist in her school played by the charismatic Jammz.
An intimate friendship is struck between the two as Debra becomes Vyper’s student in the ways of Grime, giving her her first taste of Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in Da Corner. Soon, with the help of Grime’s empowering bars, Debra rises like a phoenix from the ashes of a puritanical wasteland and becomes ‘Debris’.
With the encouragement of Grime, Debris begins to explore, discovering just who and what she loves. Unable to live in a religious household, unsupportive of her pansexuality, Debris leaves home and all of her friends behind.
As the audience is drawn into this character arc of Debris, and encouraged to empathise with the influence Grime can have across racial boundaries, they are also confronted with what Grime means to the community it was created by and for.
SS Vyper takes the lead as he lays charges of appropriation and lack of acknowledgement at Debris’ newly successful and comparatively privileged feet. A battle of the bars proceeds. It is a relief to see Vyper victorious while Debris hold herself accountable and concede the stage to Vyper. The culmination of this battle is an audience-rousing performance by Jammz.
Ola Ince smoothly directs an entangled and vigorous web of narratives as Cassie Clare and Kirubel Belay (who plays Debris’ brother Tony) hype the audience and nearly outshine the stars with captivating choreography and irresistible energy.
Poet in Da Corner is at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs until 6 October 2018.