"In hip hop, we create our own mythology".
As he charts his worries with music, love, and selling out, Testament is endearing, likeable, and clearly confident in his ability .
In an innovative blend of 18th century poetry, hip hop, and biography, the World-Record holding beatboxer and rapper Testament (AKA Andy Brooks) offers his theatrical debut. Wholly accessible for those uninitiated in either William Blake or hip hop, this self-assured show has glimpses of true vision.
William Blake occupies a unique place in the history of British poetry: a mystical "visionary" who was considered mad by his contemporaries. The homage to him reinvents Blake's mythology of four 'Zoas', or universal forces, embodying them with four 'hip hop pioneers' – Soweto Kinch, Ty, Jest, and Schlomo – all shone onto the walls in a projection controlled by the onstage decks of Scratch DJ World Champion, DJ Woody, stuttering and rewinding in a live mixtape of their filmed performance poetry. The set itself is a delight to look at, traversed with coloured wires and transformed by Dave Lynch's ambitious visuals, seeming to knock down the walls themselves or project a spinning London panorama.
I'd make the claim that no one is better set to bring Blake's words to a modern audience. Entangling Blake's canon with his own lines and rhymes, Testament's end result has a seamless momentum that gives the archaic a thrilling relevancy – which is all the more engaging for the exposition spent on how Blake inspired him. Blake's input, from the lesser-known The Four Zoas to a rehash of the canonical The Tyger ("Tyger! Tyger! Burning mics"), is respectfully and artfully woven into Testament's more modern vocabulary. And the more personal sections are no worse off. One section in particular, moving back and forth between his contradictory impulses as he basks in the euphoria of a church service, shows off an incisive verbal ability.
Indeed, over the show's duration, more showcasing of Testament's talents might have been welcome. For the only real weakness to the show is in the spoken narrative, which takes up much of the stage time. Billed as 'a coming-of-age story with a difference', the biographical elements of the show never quite string into a coherent plot or commit to any particular strands. As he charts his worries with music, love, and selling out, Testament is endearing, likeable, and clearly confident in his ability from the get-go, though it becomes clear that he is not – particularly in the context of the shows he's competing with in Edinburgh – quite the actor or comedian that might have been needed to carry this show's story.
The account of his time running rap workshops in a young offender's prison is, however, warmly entertaining, particularly when impersonating the young musicians Alby and Tom, distinctly capturing their unique voices and styles, showing off Testament's true range when actually rapping in these different personas. The tendency to stress how emotional the story is does it a disservice, and a more capable dramatist might have been able to make more of this. But these are minor issues in a captivating multimedia show. Credit is due to director Tom Wright for tying the show's disparate elements into a tightly synchronised design.