Liverpool Echo review The Broke 'N' Beat Collective

When the pitch for a performance is four diverse artists bringing us the stories of young people in our communities, the first thought is one of those very special school assemblies where a touring theatre company told you to respect your peers. With a toe-curling rap.

Forget all that. Cast the very thought into one of those massive metal bins outside the school canteen of your mind. Chuck it in along with other such ‘90s phenomena as Pogs, purple shell suits and the unstoppable rise of 2 Unlimited.

This is arguably the most innovative piece of theatre to hit Liverpool since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime stopped off at the Empire last year.

A deceptively simple conceit, it uses the most basic of technology, stuff the majority of us have at hand, to astonishing effect.

The collective of beat-boxer Hobbit, dancer Ryan LoGisTic Harston, puppeteer Mohsen Nouri and the singing poet Elektric enter behind a line of mics with a geometric cluster of boxes in varying sizes stacked innocuously behind them.

As they take us through the stories of the young people this collective has collected, boxes are removed from and returned to the pile. Some contain a solitary chuckle, others are transformed into urban streetscapes where the intricacies of life within are relayed by camcorder to a screen at the back of the stage.

It’s possibly a knowing metaphor for what runs through the minds of disenchanted youth today. There is so much of quality going on inside their heads, if only we’d be prepared to lift the lid and take a look inside. Instead, we keep such boxes tightly shut and eventually slot them back in to the pile to get lost among all the others.

One such box housed Omar, a grey hoodie brought to life by Nouri and Harston at various points in the 70-minute show. At first aggressive and confrontational, Omar can’t connect until, eventually, he is given the means to communicate to a wider audience. It makes for a truly moving final chapter in the evening’s stories but one that is best told by the Collective, not here.

As well as the grit, there’s the skit and the titters too.

Jack in the Box is one of the cleverest sequences we’re shown. A breakdancing Harston becomes a player and then a father, all while wearing a box on his head with the features added by his fellow performers. It could well be the first time in your life that you see a flirtatious cardboard girl but it all fits in the folds of the tale. There’s also a good chance you’ll want to adopt Boom-Box-Head. You can’t unfortunately - but he is available on a t-shirt.

Issues such as teenage pregnancy, anti-social behaviour and self harm are all laid bare, the latter being the most tenderly told of all as a girl made from strips of paper tells us of the images in the magazines she wants to relate to but instead turns on herself. It builds to a positive ending but one that will have you hanging on its every word.

This is short, stocky theatre with ideas that will stay with you long after the final beat of the box. Step out of your pigeon hole and give it a go.

Jamie McLoughlin

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/whats-on/theatre-news/review-broke-n-beat-collective-10866547