The newly refurbed Courtyard theatre is booming with loud hip-hop / rap music. I expect the worst from a “rap musical” about Mushy and Mr Burton from Educating Yorkshire. Because, to be honest, I don’t really like rap music and I was never the biggest fan of reality TV.
But Rifco Theatre Company have created a thoughtful, interesting and highly creative piece that is utterly accessible to everyone – whether you like musicals, rap, TV or theatre or none of the above, it’s still got plenty to enjoy.
Mushy has a stammer, and it’s affecting his school life. He’s bullied and struggling. And all his mum wants is for him to be happy. Be happy, and become a doctor. So when a TV crew visit his school and capture the iconic moment his English teacher Mr Burton seemingly “cures” his stammer – will Mushy’s life ever be the same?
The piece explores society’s “get famous quick” culture, the downfall of fame and the hidden dishonesties of “reality” TV. I feel the show could have easily been cut down to a succinct, enjoyable one act play rather than expanded for the sake of squeezing in an interval. But for essentially a play following a fairly shallow-plotted journey, it crams a lot of themes in there. Rejection, race, diversity, disability, confidence, culture and friendship all play a big part – and I don’t leave feeling I’ve been preached to. Actually, I leave with a lot to think about, which is exactly where I feel a lot of contemporary theatre falls down. Rifco doesn’t fall into the pitfall of just telling the audience to feel – the production gently puts forward its characters and lets the story do the telling.
The cast of three are very strong. Varum Raj leads as Mushy and expertly delivers the stammer without attracting sniggers or breaking the believability of his character. Medhavi Patel is fantastic as Ammi, Mushy’s mum. She has her own character arc and she owns it, while also popping in as a couple of other characters too. I feel Oliver Longstaff’s Mr Burton is a little to arrogant, which takes some of the likability away, but it’s a strong performance non-the-less.
The book, written by Pravesh Kumar, is a great work of art but I could have done without the rap songs (lyrics by Raxstar). As I mentioned earlier though, rap’s not really my thing.
I’ve not seen a set design as clever as this for quite some time. The pile-up of speakers open out into school lockers, ironing boards, desks and blackboards. It’s so intricate and yet so seamless. The lighting brings us into the action too, adding a surreal yet energising glow to the stage when the piece needs it most.
I’ve not seen Rifco’s work before but they’ve definitely got themselves a firm fan. I look forward to seeing their future work.
Catch Mushy: Lyrically Speaking at Leeds Playhouse until 12th October.
Photograph taken from the Leeds Playhouse website.