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Da Boyz :: Stratford East
Da Boyz
Da Boyz - Mystro and Kyza
Da Boyz - DJ Excalibah
Mystro as Antipolus from Ephesus
The other night I was lucky enough to attend the Theatre Royal in Stratford East London for a performance of Da Boys, a modern re-working of a famous old story of mistaken identity, popularised by Shakespeare and later by Rodgers and Hart as "The Boys From Syracuse". I rolled up to the venue with an open mind, not really knowing to expect. Before the show my friend and I had a burger and a pint in the ground floor bar. The food was unfortunately adequate rather than spectacular, but this wasn't going to spoil the evening. At 7:45 everyone was called to the auditorium for the start of the show which began with some freestyle dancing to get the crowd in the mood as they filtered in to take their seats if they were upstairs, or unusually for a theatre, to stand downstairs. The music was loud and modern and boded well for the rest of the show. The entire cast were shaking their things to dancehall, DnB and electro sounds building an anticipation of what lay ahead.  

The venue being tagged on to back of Stratford's modernish shopping centre, had a strangely old feel inside the auditorium, with its gilded wood work and red velvet seats, whose rows were a bit too close together to accommodate my legs. The auditorium was also pretty small and led to a cosy, intimate atmosphere, and no matter where you were you'd feel close to the stage and the action. The set was very minimal with DJ Excalibah and his decks high at the back on a raised level which ran the length of the stage. In front of him was large FSS lettering, the name of the local Ephesus crew who appear in the story. They are all dressed in black hoodies with an orange FSS on the hoods. They are frequently on stage all performing excellent choreographed dance sequences. Apart from the big FSS at the back of the stage there was virtually no other scenery, but the clever touch was two large screens placed to either side of the stage which allowed you too see scenes that were taking place off stage. To start the show proper the screens came to life and we had a pair comedians explaining how now would be a good time for people to turn their mobile phones off.

The background to the story is that two sets of identical twins - the Antipolus brothers and their servants Dromio were separated after a storm at sea when they were just kids. One Antipolus brother and Dromio settle in Ephesus for a life of parties and the other pair settle in Syracuse. Later the pair from Syracuse travel to Ephesus to re-unite with their long lost family. This is when the musical starts, and when all the trouble begins. The citizens of Ephesus don't like those from Syracuse, the first scene being the locals calling for an old man from Syracuse to be killed. 

Mystro plays the part of the Antipolus brother who settled in Ephesus. He has a wife Adriana played by Lorna Brown, but likes to play away as well, helped with his evasions by his servant Dromio played by Kat. Kyza is the Antipolus twin from Syracuse, his Dromio being played by Darren Hart. There are a whole series of situations and visual as well as vocal jokes many based upon the confusion of the identity of the two pairs of twins, who both wear the same clothes so as to drive the point home. Adriana confuses Kyza for her husband and takes a bemused Kyza back home to feed him and love him whilst Mystro is out on the town picking up ladies and doing deals for a chain which is to be a gift for his lover.

Things really hot up when Mystro returns home to find himself locked out and Kyza inside with his wife. Many jokes are played out with the use of one of the only props - a door, and the police are called in the form of the local sergeant played by Nolan 'Ginks' Weeks, and Mystro is hauled off to jail. As with all the actors Weeks puts in a top rated performance bringing in some of the ragga element. Without giving too much of the plot away, if that is possible with a Shakespeare tale, the jokes abound especially from the two Dromios and Luce, a hilarious escort played by Peaches and was one of my favourite characters. 

After the interval the Duke is called on to pass judgment on the old man from Syracuse who was being lynched in the opening scene. The Duke is played by a special guest performer each night. Earlier in the run Demolition Man did the honours, but for this show, and I'm led to believe till the end of the run Rodney P stepped to the stage. As a breather and a cool way to get people back into the show after the break he performed The Future from his forthcoming LP and Dedication which the crowd were feeling. In fact all throughout as each musical piece drew to a close the audience clapped and whooped their approval. Much of the story was told through the lyrics of the songs with only a need for small pieces of dialogue to move the story on. The soundtrack was admirably delivered by Excalibah who didn't miss a beat, cutting over many classic instrumentals ranging from old electro, Rob Base & EZ Rock's It Takes Two through to bashment and Adam F beats. A few of the main songs from Rogers & Hart's original such as the Longest Night Of The Year, Come With Me and Ladies Of The Evening were included too, but updated. The whole production had a credible air, making use of real MC's who make a living off rapping in the main roles and proper dancers and singers who could really hold it down backing them up, rather than actors who may not have been able to deliver some of the lines with such realism or capture the street humour.

The whole of the second half seemed to fly by and in what seemed like no time at all the story had played out and it was all over. I had thoroughly enjoyed it, the laughs had made me rock in my seat and the soundtrack, singing and rapping had made me wonder whether it would have been better standing downstairs where one could have danced along. Admittedly the cast had been doing nightly shows for a week or more now, but they all came over as seasoned professionals and if they did mess up at all they were able to style it out so that I didn't notice. The quality of the sound was impressive too. Where so much of the story was conveyed in raps it was important that the performers could be understood and in marked contrast to many gigs where very similar material is being reproduced the mix was balanced well.

There is a massive amount of people involved in bringing the show to you, including, Ultz who is the Designer / Director, MC Skolla who helped out Excalibah in re-working the music and writing some of the lyrics, Steady who did the Choreography, Becky Seagar who did the costumes, Dan Cook - Lighting, as well as the rest of the large cast and all the background staff at the theatre who make it happen, not forgetting Jasmine Cullingford who let me know about the show.

It is strange that this show should come around just as another production, the Bomb-Itty of Errors is also showing in the West End. Both being based on old Shakespeare texts and being transposed into a modern urban environment there are many parallels that can be drawn. This production had everything, a fat musical score, a great cast, good acting, tremendous choreography and a whole dollop of laughs, so any other production would have to go some to match this for energy and entertainment. DJ Excalibah, who has been a member of the Stratford East Theatre since he was 11 or something has worked his way up and is the main man behind this production. With all this going for it there is no doubt that this production should appeal to youngsters who may well be turned off more classical representations of Shakespeare and maybe there is something in there too for aficionados who perhaps feel some Shakespeare performances can be a bit jaded. This initial run is proving to be such a success that the run has been extended, until the 18th I believe, but you can check that with the box office. Who knows what is next for the company? Now that they have put together a talented group of individuals who have obviously knitted tightly it would be a shame for them to disband and see the talents disperse. Could anyone be brave enough to take this to the West End, or even to New York and off off Broadway? Who knows, in the past productions like Five Guys Named Moe and earlier Theatre Workshop have moved on to the West End and have been very successful. The Theatre has a long history of being involved in the community and nurturing local talent. Recently the Posse came out of the Theatre Royal, and Excalibah could be the next. Catch it while you can.
Theatre Royal Stratford East, 
Gerry Raffles Square, 
Stratford, 
London, 
E15 1BN 
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Opening Hours: 10am - 7pm, Monday - Saturday

Nearest Tube and Mainline Station: Stratford (Silverlink, Jubilee, Central and DLR)

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www.stratfordeast.com :: [email protected]

Intro Early Doors:
1979-1985
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