CPT’s Artistic Director Brian Logan on why we’re excited for Beats + Elements’ hip-hop theatre show No Milk for the Foxes.
The actors Julie Walters, “Dame” Judi Dench and James McAvoy have railed against it. But who’s doing anything about it? I’m talking about the slow death of working-class talent in the theatre: a much-vexed subject in the era of silver-spoon thesps Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne.
Well, we’re doing something about it. In a fortnight, we’re opening No Milk for the Foxes, a co-production between CPT and the new company Beats & Elements. It’s a hiphop / comedy / theatre event – there’s no one word for what these boys are doing – and it addresses class head-on. “Since when” – to paraphrase Owen Jones – “did ‘salt of the earth’; become ‘scum of the earth’?” That’s Beats & Elements’ (aka spoken word / beatbox / theatre people Paul Cree and Conrad Murray’) starting point, and from it they’ve spun a mouthy, heartbreaking and provocative show about being “the underclass”; about zero-hours contracts, snobbery and the fracturing of social solidarity.
(It’s also terrifically funny.)
Paul and Conrad have made the show because “I grew up on a council estate in London” (says Conrad) “and, coming from this background, we felt like there wasn’t much, if any, art being made that related to us.” There’s a lifetime of frustration, and political intelligence, pent up in this project, and the dam bursts on April 22. There’s also – on Fri 24 April – a post-show discussion with the academics Dave O’Brien and Sam Friedman, discussing their pioneering (and hot-off-the-press) research into working-class participation in culture and patterns of disadvantage within the acting profession.
At CPT, we first encountered Paul and Conrad’s project as part of our Passing the baton strand as part of our twentieth birthday season. PtB invited ten of the great artists who’ve worked at CPT in the past (I’m talking Chris Goode, Fevered Sleep, Scottee, Robert Pacitti) to select ten new-to-CPT artists to make work (with a seed commission attached) at CPT.
In my capacity as co-AD of Cartoon de Salvo, who made our first show at CPT in 1998, I selected No Milk for the Foxes. I knew Paul from a BAC Young People’s Theatre I’d directed in 2009. Then there was his hit solo show Tales from the Bedsit at the Roundhouse in 2013. He’s a big talent, with stuff to say that we don’t hear much of in theatre. He and Conrad’s PtB performance was a great success: not only did the piece have loads to communicate, it forged a whole new theatrical language (part workplace drama, part beat-poetry event, part hiphop musical) to do so.
Since we’ve become involved with NMFTF, it’s been a joy to work with Paul and Conrad, who’ve led workshops on our behalf with local young people and who got practically our whole community beatboxing at a charity event last summer at Netley Community Centre, just up the road. In short, we at CPT think these boys are born entertainers, with something important to say. We’re excited to launch No Milk for the Foxes as part of our pre-General Election political season, ‘The State We’re In’. We really hope that you – and Julie, and James, and Judi – will take a punt on it. We promise: you’ll be pleased you did.