Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Unleashed review at Barbican Theatre London

by -

Youth projects on this scale are rare enough to warrant serious attention. The fact that this multi-platform entertainment is so successful is a bonus. Around 170 children working in various disciplines from poetry to music and from dance to film have been brought together by Boy Blue founder Kenrick Sandy and director Walter Meierjohann to address the lives of young people in the aftermath of the London riots in the summer of 2011.

The result is raucous and energised, occasionally bordering on disorderly but with just enough control to prevent it descending into chaos and to keep it on its thematic track. The point of the piece is lost on no one, rendering Sandy’s concluding heartfelt plea to listen to what young people have to say virtually redundant.

Although it is centred around a visual and aural core of streetdance and drumming in the Stomp! style, there are plenty of other elements. The video screens which stretch right around the stage display grafitti, housing projects, politicians arguing about “young people today”, and conflagration while above the stage a group of young classical musicians (Future Sound) provide the musical counterpoint to the percussive delirium.

Surprises, too, from the poems delivered throughout, especially The Dream Dealer which opens and closes the show – a sophisticated and dynamic poem that combines a poet’s ear for language with a genuine sense of pop potency. Even better, it is about as close to rap as Madonna is to Mahler.

Well-paced by director Meierjohann, the apocalyptic thunder of the Drum Works’ members integrates with the hip hop antics of Da Bratz and Da Bluez, Boy Blues’ associated youth groups; there is a show-stopping acoustic song by a girl sitting on the edge of the stage and a very effective sequence in which ‘posh’ kids sit around on pianos trying to make sense of a world from which they are largely protected.

Interview footage of parents describing their hopes and ambitions for their children is intercut with the kids themselves describing their dreams. I was particularly taken with the little girl who wants to join Diversity to make lots of money so she can fulfil her ultimate dream of opening a reptile-only pet shop as she is allergic to fur. You couldn’t make it up.

Production Information

Barbican Theatre, London, November 23-24

Kenrick Sandy, Michael Asante, Boy Blue Entertainment
Walter Meierjohann
Jill Shelley, Angie Smith
Members of the Young People of Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning, Boy Blue Entertainment
Running time
1hr 30mins

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price