Back in the spring, I received an email from the Vancouver-based rapper Baba Brinkman. He had written a song based on the arguments in The Rebel Sell called “The Social Contract”, and had released it on the internet. We exchanged a few messages, and then he told me that he was planning to submit a proposal to the Edinburgh Fringe festival, to expand it into a full length musical. I was flattered but, to be honest, somewhat skeptical, and I put it out of my mind.
To make a long story short: The proposal was accepted, and in a matter of months he wrote, scored, and staged the full-length play The Rebel Cell, which he describes as “1984 meets 8 Mile”. I haven’t been able to get over to Edinburgh to catch a show, but by all accounts it has been a smashing success. After the jump I’ve appended Baba’s latest press release, which collects a number of the reviews that have been appearing in the British press. If you want to hear the soundtrack, you can download it in its entirety from his website.
I should emphasize that, apart from being extremely flattered, neither I nor Joe Heath had anything to do with the production — the success is Baba’s and Baba’s alone. Here’s his latest email:
Punters and Quarterbacks,
Greetings from the Edinburgh Fringe! As of today we have performed the Rebel Cell 19 times and we have just 8 shows left before it all packs up. I had planned to write earlier, but you know what Robbie Burns says about the best laid plans (they gang aft agley). Our plans for “The Rebel Cell” on the other hand have been coming to glorious fruition, with strong sales (only one total sell-out crowd so far though) and amazing reviews. So far we haven’t gotten a review with less than four stars out of five and we are officially nominated for a Fringe First Award from the Scotsman, one of the major festival awards here for best new writing.
But instead of just trumpeting, I thought I’d turn my critical eye to the reviews being written and the degree to which they “got it”, and if so, managed to communicate it. Check out the highs and lows:
Fest Magazine: Ô Ô Ô Ô
Highlight: “High-octane lyrical content…a cerebral, savvy production that explores our modern social contract with vivacity and zeal.”
Lowlight: It’s also a very cerebral review, which can be a tough one to quote from and use as a selling point when flyering, like: “hey, come see our show; it’s really…cerebral!” Overall this was probably the review that best matched the tone of the show itself.
FringeReview.com: Ô Ô Ô Ô
Highlight: “[A] brilliant dramatic final coup-de-theatre…it is clear that these performers are masters of their art.”
Lowlight: Mixing up a peace sign with a “V for Victory sign” which led to confusion, and the awkward rhyming lines in the last paragraph of the review, such as: “They compel, they impel, they use words well and they can spell.” We had to be careful not to quote any of these rhymes on our flyers, or else we would have had to accompany each flyer with a disclaimer, like “yeah, the show is in rhyme, but not like that…”
Three Weeks: Ô Ô Ô Ô Ô
Highlight: “These two astounding lyricists transcend common perceptions of what hip-hop can achieve…Powerfully intelligent and awe-inspiringly eloquent, these guys are the saviours of hip-hop.”
Lowlight: It sounds pretty over-the-top, dubious even, but I have to admit I love the enthusiasm, and all of our flyers now say “Awe-inspiringly eloquent” on them, a very quotable accolade.
The List: Ô Ô Ô Ô
Lowlight: Grossly over-simplifies the premise of the show, but not by summarizing or being concise, just by stating baldly that the premise of the show is simple, which it most certainly is not. Also, the only remotely quotable phrase “extraordinary freestyle poetry” isn’t really usable, because the whole script is memorized as opposed to improvised, so it categorically isn’t freestyle. A review full of unfocussed and often mistaken criticism, which nonetheless gave us four stars, so who are we to complain?
The Stage: (no star system)
Highlight: “The Rebel Cell is a rare and inventive experiment…Both performers contribute great energy and panache…ingenious rhymes and brilliantly subtle delivery”
Lowlight: This is the only review so far to divide up our talents rather than discussing us as a harmonious whole. The “ingenious” quote actually applies only to me, and appears right after the observation that Dizraeli is a much better actor than I am. What is she trying to do, start a fight?
The Scotsman: Reviewed us over a week ago but it still hasn’t been published. We are also nominated for an award, and we’ll find out whether we won on Friday. Fingers crossed…
The Guardian: Feature Article (no stars)
Highlight: “Thrilling rap drama”
Lowlight: It actually calls the show a “Scattershot and occasionally thrilling rap drama” but that’s the beauty of strategic quotation. They’ve actually passed a new law here in Scotland that the quotations used for publicity have to be in keeping with the intended meaning of the review, so it is now illegal to take a review like this: “This tedious and clichéd piece of theatre is played with incredible awkwardness by its cast. If it were well acted, it might have had a chance, but as it stands, this was a turkey.” And put on your flyers: “Incredible!…Well acted!” What do you think, am I in danger of breaking the law?
Otherwise, we have just been performing the show every day, with additional spoken word gigs and hip-hop gigs at after-hours venues on an almost-daily basis. We have literally been averaging about twelve to fifteen gigs a week for the past two and half weeks, handing out flyers every day and meeting so many people and going to some really amazing shows, comedy, theatre, performances of every kind, as well as staying up until the wee hours most nights, ‘cause that’s what you do here. There is barely a week left to go now and of course I don’t want it to end, although I am completely exhausted. After this we will make our way to Ireland for the Electric Picnic Festival, and from there, well, more places too numerous to mention. The next time I write, it will be an Edinburgh retrospective, and I hope to have exciting news to share. Now to try to generate some…
If you want to hear for yourself what all the fuss is about, you can still listen to and download the entire Rebel Cell album from my website: http://www.babasword.com
If you want to set up a gig near you, either of the Rebel Cell or the Rap Canterbury Tales or the live hip-hop experience that is Mud Sun, just ask. The new music video from the Rebel Cell is on youtube now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diGf7V0BWOM
All the best from the greatest festival in the world.
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