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Mixtape review at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – ‘ambitious gig theatre’

Elli Kypriadi in Mixtape at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Joel C Fildes

Manchester is a city known and celebrated for its music. Honouring that musical heritage, the Royal Exchange Young Company – winner of School of the Year in The Stage Awards 2018 – present an ambitious new show that attempts to capture the beat of the streets, turning the pulse of those pavements into a pounding piece of gig theatre.

Devised by the company with composer James Frewer, Mixtape is a mash-up of drama, song and spoken word, telling the stories of a trio of Mancunian youngsters.

Siphilise (Zoe Ndlovu) – Phi for short – is juggling two jobs and struggling to see what she’s working for. Leyla’s (Sara Abanur) tired of being hemmed in by others’ expectations and prejudices. And Leon (Charlie Shaw) finds himself sucker-punched by unexpected feelings, not knowing who to confide in. Other characters weave in, out and around these three stories, sometimes appearing only for a song or a monologue. Just as on the city streets, people collide, slide past and slip away.

The constant shuffling between narrative tracks leaves no opportunity for boredom, but it also means there’s also scant time in which to build these characters and their relationships. In among the startlingly tender encounters and captivating, poetic narration, there are plenty of other moments that stall or fall flat. The writing can be uneven, and as on most mixtapes there are a few duds.

It’s hard, though, not to be thrilled by the thump of the music and the sheer energy of the Young Company’s performances. If this is the future of Manchester’s famed culture, it’s in good hands.

The Stage Awards winners 2018, in their own words

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The Royal Exchange Young Company’s infectious, if uneven, piece of musical storytelling