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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Into The Hoods
Novello Theatre Spring-Summer 2008; Queen Elizabeth Hall Winter 2009-10; Royal Festival Hall Summer 2010; Peacock Theatre Spring 2016

This show, seen in earlier versions at the Edinburgh Fringe, is being marketed as a hip-hop musical, and I can understand why - to attract a young not-normally-go-to-the-theatre audience who will certainly love it.

But it would be a shame of the label dissuaded others, because this is actually a vibrant and inventive all-dance show in a wide range of styles, with hip-hop and break dancing only a small part of the repertoire and appeal.

Created by director-choreographer Kate Prince and the dancers of the company Zoonation, its backbone is a contemporary street-level retelling of classic fairy tales, all in dance, set to what seem like a hundred bits - some just brief samplings - of pop music recordings.

The show is sometimes compared to James Lapine's book for the 1987 Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods, but the only real connection is the ironic re-imagining of fairy tales.

In this case, two runaway schoolkids find themselves in a high-rise housing estate whose residents include the aspiring club DJ Spinderella, the wannabe singer Lil Red, and others.

The kids get involved with their adventures, which include Lil Red falling into the clutches of the crooked record producer Wolf, Jaxx fighting the Mr. Big drug dealer, and Rap-on-Zel and Red discovering that the Pop Idol loser Prince has been playing them both.

All this is done in dance that includes, but is not limited to the spins, flips and popping vocabulary of break and hip-hop.

One retro sequence is pure Lindy Hop, the visit to Grandmother's old folks' home quotes wittily from both reggae and Michael Jackson's Thriller, and other sequences invoke every style from classical ballet through Broadway chorus dancing to Twyla Tharp.

And the dancing is good - disciplined, sophisticated and imaginative. These are clearly not just very good street dancers thrown on a stage, but trained and talented dancers (and an imaginative choreographer) absorbing street dance into their repertoire.

There's no dialogue, the narrative supplied by the voice of the unseen Josh Cohen and some inventive film and animation projections by Felix Harrison.

Most of the recorded songs are used just as accompaniment, but some are worked into the plot for dramatic or comic effect, other humour provided by Grandmother's doddering neighbours and Spinderella's panto-dame family.

Rotating pairs of 11-year-old kids from Zoonation's youth company play the visitors, and if they're all as good as the pair I saw, you'll fall in love with them.

Otherwise, you'll each select your own favourites among Teneisha Bonner's Spinderella, Sacha Chang's Lil Red, Rowen Hawkins' Jaxx and the rest of the uniformly first-rate cast.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Into The Hoods - Novello Theatre 2008