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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

Edinburgh Fringe Fest - Tones: A Hip Hop Opera

The central character in Tones: A Hip Hop Opera, is Jerome, a black man in the midst of an identity crisis. His skin tone others him in a white world, yet his voice – his tone – is deemed not quite black enough to fit in with his peers.

Produced by Wound Up Theatre and directed by Jonny Kelly, the team behind highly acclaimed Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy and It'll Be Alt-Right on the Night, Tones fuses a subcultural soundscape with gig theatre and autobiographical references to explore Black- British identity, class and belonging.

Honing the skill set of storytelling (and indeed, interviews!) through bars has earned writer Gerel Falconer the title of “Rapaturg” and seen him become an important voice in the ever-evolving musical theatre industry.

Have a read of his awe-inspiring, mellifluous answers to our questions about this brand-new show, race and combining hip-hop with musical theatre.

Can you tell us about Tones: A Hip Hop Opera – what are the main themes of the show?

Family, music, coming of age, code-switching, class, colour and race. The main theme in Tones is evolving identity. Culturally, socially, tonally, vocally, Who we are versus who people think we're meant to be. What happens when these ideals conflate and we buckle under the weight of expectancy?

The thematic journey was clearly a lesson. At the start, Race and class were the vehicle and essence. "After years of oppression, where's the progression?" plus the glass ceilings of elitist professions. Both a valid statement and a serious question. Then I thought, it's obvious I represent diversity anyone would know that if they saw me or heard me speak. It's easy to judge people at face value but does the outer picture depict us internally? I dug deeper within thinking where is this heading and found the theme of identity is paired with acceptance. Now more than ever people are scared of expression due to Trolls with broken souls that jeer imperfections while hiding themselves too due to fear of rejection. Which increases depression, repression regression stresses and tension. Looking outside the constructs of race and class on a human level we all share a connection.

The inside-out approach to black identity might help a white audience find true empathy. Our minds and emotions bring us together but we've got extra pressures you don't get to see.

I then thought That's great! Now where's the entertainment gone? Let’s rap it up and put into one big song!!! Haha

It looks like Tones is at the forefront of bringing hip-hop, grime and drill to musical theatre – is that a fair assessment?

Nah, to claim it's at the forefront is disrespectful to every show before us, that explored these genres in musical performance. I've worked on and been in and supported Drill, Grime and Hip-Hop musicals. The only way Tones can be at the forefront is if the concept and construct are new to you.

Also, a musical should be "music-all" and categorisation is one of the hugest calls.

The aforementioned genres focused on spitting "It's not a musical or Opera if nobody's singing" When associations of race and class don’t fit a critic' They forget we're storytelling through vocals and lyrics.

What's at the forefront of theatre is about recognition; an audience vs the press decision. By that, I mean I've been in sold-out shows with nightly standing ovations that only get 3-star right-ups in the papers. In almost all of the cases, the odds are; The community connect to the genre and the reviewers don't really know the culture so they don't get the references then feel left out because they can't give a detailed account, they drop stars.

Why is it important to put this on stage?

When society puts you in a place where individual mistakes lead to critique of your race, you create a double-consciousness and limit what you say and what you do in case you misconstrue the image you portray.

Can you imagine what that's doing to your brain? Trying to please white people and make everything okay. A black man steals a bike and every one of us is blamed. We tailor our personas just to prove we're not the same. Instead of saying "fam" or "cuz" we soften it to "mate" in case people judge us as thugs from the estates.

The moment that you change your tone and assimilate. Your own people start to say your fake and they give you hate. Can you imagine what all this is doing to your brain? If you don't know, you'll get to know, because of Tones the play!

There are more reasons why Tones should be staged. Music and Theatre's emotional range: A sound of a note, a quote or a gesture can make us see things in a whole different way. Plus, If we didn't stage Tones it would simply disappear and no-one can bop along to songs they didn't hear!

I couldn't think of an ending phrase but come and see Tones you'll be entertained!!!

To what extent is it theatre’s responsibility to educate as well as entertain?

For me... the word educate has associations with regurgitating memorised names dates and places. No shows that are shown are purely entertainment. You always learn something (even if it's why you hate it). Part of the job is making a point or a statement but we fail at our job when we're over-explaining. In theatre, you can learn from quotes and references but deeper than that, there's emotional intelligence. If education is your eventual objective Instead of endlessly repeating a lesson or message. Seeing a sequence of events can make us question our ethics as well as perspectives till we challenge our identities and get Introspective. Signs of successful theatre education: The show doesn’t end with cheering and ovation, it continues to build over beers and conversation, passionate debates, jeers and indignation or years and years of

Tears and revelations.

How did the relationship between you and director Jonny Kelly come about?

I've known Jonny forever! were good friends but weirdly we've never worked together. Between attending each other’s weddings and watching 27 dresses we'd chat about the prospect of connecting our professions. It always came down to the project and the message. I even sent him a play in lockdown which he rejected! Not because of the content but how it was presented. When Tones hit me like a thunderbolt it was a blessing. I knew he would direct it; it wasn't even questioned. 3D Williams on the score... majestic!

Matt Greenhough also deserves a mention! All his advice and guidance nullify my second guessing. Working with Wound Up helps my writing develop, the way that HighRise helps with my style of expression. Glad I'm working with Jonny, he's kind of a legend!!!

Tones: A Hip Hop Opera will be performed at 3pm in Pleasance Courtyard (Upstairs) from 2nd – 28th August



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