Preview: Melody Loses Her Mojo

Artist director Keith Saha shows Kevin Bourke how youth theatre can be inventive and invigorating in Melody Loses Her Mojo

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“Our concept is that everybody’s got a story to tell and their own way of telling it. But there’s an inequality in how people are represented and in who feels they are allowed to go into theatre buildings,” believes Keith Saha, co-artistic director of the dynamic Liverpool-based theatre company 20 Stories High.

“For people who haven’t experienced theatre we’re trying to break down those conventions of what they think theatre is, in terms of the stories that we’re telling and the art forms that we’re using. With more traditional theatre-going audiences, we’re trying to break down what their preconceptions might be of hip-hop or youth culture.”

Its last show, the brilliant Ghostboy, was an improbably triumphant blend of hip-hop theatre and masks. Later this month, the world premiere at Liverpool Playhouse of its latest touring show Melody Loses Her Mojo, finds it exploring even more heady territory, adding puppetry to the mix of spoken word, music, dance and street art, to tell the story of Melody, who is in care and has been separated from her little sister Harmony. She’s got to keep hold of her toy monster Mojo to keep her on the straight and narrow. But when new girl Blessing arrives from Nigeria and tries to steal her best mate Rizla, Melody’s demons begin to take over her Mojo with devastating consequences.

“I’d previously done a semi-autobiographical two-hander called Babul And The Blue Bear during Liverpool’s Capital Of Culture year about one young boy who’d been in care and his experience of finding his dad,” remembers Saha. “I felt there were more stories that I wanted to explore about young people in care, especially as it seemed that lots of changes were happening, with privatisation creeping in, young siblings being displaced and separated from each other, and so on.

“At the same time, we wanted to experiment with form again, as we had with the masks in Ghostboy. Now I really wanted to push the possibilities of puppetry within hip-hop theatre, where the puppets become extensions of the dancers’ limbs.

“Artistically, politically and socially, at 20 Stories High, we believe it’s our mission to put untold stories on stage. As part of that artistic process we work every week with young people in our target age group of 13-30 in our youth theatre and young actors company, so that the stories and the art-form that they own feeds into our professional show.

“Everything’s collaborative and I like that it’s a mish-mash. The music brings together Hobbit, the international beat-boxing champion who worked on Ghostboy, and the cellist Hannah Marshall. With the design we’re bringing Kate Unwin, who’s a fantastic traditional theatre designer, together with a fantastic club artist called Mark Wigan, who’s been around since the earliest days of hip-hop.

“I met Sue Buckmaster, who’s the artistic director of Theatre-Rites, an amazing puppet company in London, just for a chat and coffee, to get her opinions and advice. We’re working with a choreographer, Kwesi Johnson, who’s a hip-hop artist and dancer, who also fuses jazz and ballet and contemporary dance.

“So around the writing process we’ve got a whole host of other artists having an input, as well as puppet-makers like Horse+Bamboo, plus input from social workers, agencies and young people to make sure the content is up-to-date and accurate.

“Creating work for young people, I feel quite passionately that we should not patronise them or sugar-coat anything. I feel you can go to as many dark places as you want to as long as there is some hope at the end, without it being Disney-fied. We do want people who are coming to see it, though, to know that we are going to be close to the bone in terms of some of the content.”

Melody Loses Her Mojo, 20-28 Sept, Playhouse, Liverpool

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