On the 20th floor of an abandoned East End tower block, Blaze (a Caribbean MC) and Riqi (a Bengali DJ) rip up the airwaves on a leading pirate station. Their last CD was a massive hit and they’re all set to hit the big time with their first live set at Exile FM’s birthday bash coming up. Then Zahida comes into their lives and cracks begin to appear in their friendship. When a local gangster asks Blaze for a serious favour, suddenly there’s a choice to be made that could split their world wide open.
This hip-hop / rap based piece toured nationally, October to November 2006 and September to November 2008.
Amit Sharma is an actor and director who worked at Half Moon Theatre in the late 1990s. Here, he talks about returning to see the 2006 production Locked In, and how mobile phone technology was used to facilitate the end of performance question and answer session with the actors. Interviewed by Toni Tsaera.
Mikaela Spitieri worked as an usher at Half Moon during her teenage years and got to see many plays there. One which sticks in her mind was called Locked In. Interviewed by Lasairiona O’Baroid.
Chris Elwell has been the Director of Half Moon Theatre on White Horse Road since 1997. He talks about the company’s work for teenage audiences and the importance of involving them at the heart of the development process. He discusses Yeah Whatever!, Caravan, Cued Up, Cutter and Locked In. Interviewed by Kavana Joyett.
Creative Learning Producer, Beccy Allen talks about bringing a group of young people to see Locked In at Half Moon Theatre before joining the company. Interviewed by Toni Tsaera.
“Hip-hop and rap have become familiar elements in the theatre over the past few years, and have even found their way into the West End in the musical Daddy Cool. Unlike some other appropriations of the street for the stage, Fin Kennedy’s play about teenagers doing pirate broadcasts from a makeshift East End studio has a ring of authenticity.
Kennedy is the young writer who caused a stir earlier this year when his play How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found walked away with the prestigious John Whiting Award, despite the fact it had never been produced. Sheffield Theatres have now picked up that play and will be premiering it in the spring. In the meantime, Locked In demonstrates Kennedy’s highly attuned ear for the patter of local kids and his understanding of the tribal loyalties of friendship, race, gender and religion that forge teenage identities.
Blaze, a young black teenager, and his Asian friend, Riqi, are the self-styled “two wise men” whose DJ/MC double act on the local pirate station is getting them noticed. But they are growing up, and the pressures are beginning to build. When Zahida, whom they both fancy, enters the equation, their friendship is blown apart.
Kennedy’s play feels squeezed for time, and tries to stuff too many issues into the mix – from gun crime to Riqi’s sudden embracing of Islam. It also doesn’t entirely escape stereotypes.
However, Angela Michaels’ production is steely, and the young cast live and breathe their roles. Once your ear attunes to the beat and rhythms of their speech, the show has you in its grip. The real test of this production is not whether it appeals to ageing Guardian theatre critics, but whether the kids Kennedy is writing about would venture in to see it and recognise their own lives.”
Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, 9 October 2006
“An astonishing, enthralling production that successfully blends hip hop and theatre and manages to address ethnic and social issues without being patronizing.
Set at East End pirate radio station FM 110, the two ‘wise men’ DJ Tariq and MC Blaze battle out the issues of British black and Asian cultures – until gorgeous, sassy Zahida comes along to challenge their arguments. What started, as a tolerant easy-going friendship between Tariq and Blaze soon becomes a cultural war.
Tales of dissociation is a new form of genre and too often the resulting works are full of cardboard cut outs with applique issues coloured in with unconvincing psycho-babble (see Not The Love I Cry For at the Arcola). In less than an hour, Fin Kennedy manages to give Zahida, Tariq and Blaze real identities and narratives whose fates we care about.
Their actions aren’t always entirely rational, their issues don’t all stem back to some childhood horror, the plot doesn’t all lock neatly together.
This is what makes it so good. It’s human, believable and utterly compelling. Visually it is an imposing production and the impeccable choreography is mesmerising. DJ Billy Biznizz’s bangra and hip hop beats and the clever, complex lyrics are the icing on the cake.”
Zoe Green, The Stage, 3 October 2006
“Locked In is the story of three teenagers who regularly skip school to broadcast pirate radio from a disused East London tower block. Bengali DJ Riqi, Carribbean MC Blaze and new girl Zahida all think they know what they want from life, and don’t need anyone else to tell them. But after an argument one afternoon, Riqi has something of a religious awakening, and Blaze agrees to help out a local gangster. Zahida isn’t afraid to let them know when they start acting out of order, but the results still threaten to tear their world apart.
Set to a hip-hop soundtrack, the play pounds along to the beat, much of the fast-paced conversation within the flow and pulse of the music that rocks the characters’ worlds. The most heartfelt outbursts appear when the teenagers pick up the microphones and begin to rap to their listening public: their frustration with school, burning ambitions and religious conflicts are all explored within the rhythm and rhyme they blast out across the airwaves.
Locked In is an example of that rare, beautiful creature: a youth-marketed play that really does make a connection with its audience. The performances from all three actors are gripping and realistic, the set is well-designed, and the story rips along at a cracking pace, ensuring that even the most easily distracted will stay engaged. The dialogue is sometimes hard to follow word-by-word, and it can take a while to adjust to the slang and speed of conversation, but this does make the interaction more believable, and the gist is easy to grasp. Definitely worth it.”
Croydon Advertiser, 13 October 2006
“Locked In is an intense and energetic exploration of youth culture in London’s East End brought to The Drum (until Saturday 11 October) by Half Moon. And that’s the culture our kids are watching on TV, hearing in their music and which seeps into the suburbs and beyond with alarming speed.
Blaze and Tariq are 16-year-olds skivving school to rip up the airwaves on pirate radio mixing hip hop and banter finding some success and achievement here that is sadly lacking elsewhere in their lives.
Caribbean MC Blaze (Ashley J) and Bengali DJ Tariq (Lee Hardy) have been friends since starting out at school and their comradeship transcends the cultural divide and religion. Their show is all about the hood and day-to-day issues. They are ‘da Two Wise Men’ giving attitude on air but honest with and supportive of each other … at least until the sexy Zahida (Ambur Khan) comes on the scene.
Wise beyond her years, Zahida is scathing of their dead end aspirations and the gangsta culture. She wants to change the world by shooting film in the world’s trouble spots, telling the tale of Iraq and Afghanistan by being there and sharing the experience. Vying for her attention, the boys turn on each other, Tariq finds solace in Islam and the stage is set for some serious discussion about religion, war and gun crime.
Multi-award-winning writer Fin Kennedy has his finger on the pulse of the diverse cross-cultures of inner city life, and the characters’ authentic voices make this forceful theatre, accessible to teenagers through the medium of hip hop scored by DJ Billy Bizznizz and Sean Graham’s superb choreography (but more concentration needed by us oldsters to get to grips with the language).
This is believable stuff and the actors dynamic and compelling but Kennedy tries to do a lot in a short time. Stuffed full of obvious arguments and posturing, at times bordering on the trite, this is a piece for its time and its target audience – and if some teenagers come away with some questions in their minds, and a realization that theatre is for them too, Locked In has hit its mark.”
Karen Bussell, Western Morning News, 17 October 2008
“The energy crackling off the stage during Locked In is enough to power a small town. After the sixty five minute performance the players’ batteries must be drained. Certainly the atmosphere is electric. Not surprising, perhaps, since the play itself was developed by award winning writer Fin Kennedy in collaboration with young people.
The intention was to ensure that the cross-cultural inner-city life it depicts is rendered in authentic language. It is underscored by a contemporary soundtrack by international music artist DJ Billy Biznizz. The location for the narrative is the twentieth floor of an abandoned East End tower block where Blaze, the Caribbean MC, and Riqi, the Muslim DJ, are the stars of a local pirate radio station.
Everything is fine until along comes Zahida – a disruptive girl who can match them at their tasks, but whose special skill is as photographer. Then outside pressures intervene. Blaze has to do a favour for a local gangster, which entails hiding a revolver and drugs in the studio.
There follow increasingly heated discussions about their comparative religions and gun crime, which become acrimonious and, worryingly, inadvertently broadcast, so that they try to defuse the situation by substituting the name Twix for the revolver. Finally they are raided by the police.
The show demonstrates that religious and ethnic differences need be no barrier to mutual understanding. The dialogue is mostly rapped. It must be a generational thing as I actually caught only about one word in ten, but this proved no barrier to my enjoyment of the production, which also included integrated synchronised movement and dance of the kind to which Frantic Assembly have accustomed us. And it would be hard to better the three actors – Lee Hardy as Tariq, initially known as Riqi, Ashley J as Blaze, and Ambur Khan as Zahida.
Constantly riveting, this is an exciting example of a contemporary show essentially designed for young persons.”
Bill Stone, The Herald, 10 October 2008
“We’d enjoyed playwright Fin Kennedy’s work with Mulberry School for Girls at the Edinburgh Fringe, so when we saw that Half Moon were touring widely in Scotland with Locked In we had to book up. Even though the tagline of “a hip hop drama” might have made us more reluctant if we hadn’t been familiar with Fin’s other work.
Set almost entirely in their pirate radio station ‘studio’ on top of a tower block friends, DJ Riqi (Lee Hardy) and MC Blaze (Ashley J) broadcast to the nation (well, East London anyway). Their different backgrounds, cultures and religions initially seem to cause few problems to them, but we become aware of increasing pressures from outside as their own ‘clicks’ frown upon it. The addition of Zahida (Ambur Khan) to the mix is the catalyst that causes the cracks to surface.
By delivering a lot of the play in hip hop rhymes we learn a lot about all three characters very quickly and revealing as they verbally spar. Although it’s not a music style that I particularly like, it’s so effectively used to tell the story you find yourself caught up in it. It certainly doesn’t prevent the story from being accessible, even to those who are perhaps a little older than it’s main target audience. Close your eyes, take away the back beat and have the characters speak in Elizabethan English instead and you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
All three actors bring energy to their roles; delivering the sometimes complex lyrics/lines with both humour and attitude accompanied by an infectious soundscape. Half Moon have produced a very technically polished play, with everything hitting the mark. Even to replacing the traditional paper programme with a CD that includes the music that was the back beat to the performances.
An effectively told simple tale of the pressures that surround young people, especially in the inner cities. Highly topical given a summer news cycle that’s been dominated with stories of gun and knife crime – particularly in London. Unfortunately the audience at Cumbernauld Theatre was disappointingly small on a very wet and wild Saturday night, but it was certainly well received by those who had ventured out. It does deserve a larger audience, and hopefully will receive it as it continues it tour. A highly enjoyable evening.”
David Graham, A View From the Stalls, 25 October 2008
Locked In – Soundtrack