Hoodies are given a bad rap nowadays. Barely a day goes by without some damaging press report highlighting Britain’s violent crime epidemic and the sorry state of our society due to the fearsome youngsters in hooded tops who symbolise social disorder.
David Cameron proposed saving the nation with his patronising ‘Hug a Hoodie’ campaign, claiming that hooded youths are a ‘misunderstood breed’ who just need some lovin’ (twat).
Then there are the unnecessary police searches, the stats supposed to instill fear in us (‘there’s a knife-related incident every 52 minutes’) and Boris Johnson’s recent pledge to teach London’s kids dead languages like Latin and Ancient Greek to stop them knifing each other (twat).
What they don’t focus on is urban culture’s encouragement of creative expression. Banksy’s recent Cans Festival took a disused road tunnel in south London and transformed it into a giant exhibition space filled with colourful, contemporary graffiti art (one of the stand-out murals was of a symbolic self-harming Hoodie) – an art form that was once seen as unsightly vandalism.
And of course there’s hip hop. Urban culture can take full credit for creating this expressive phenomenon that began in New York in the ‘70s and is one of today’s most predominant music forces, the main elements of which include rapping, DJing, tagging and breakdancing.
So it must come as a relief to hip hop supporters that these positive aspects of the culture are now being celebrated at the Novello theatre in the ‘London fairytale’ Into the Hoods. A ghetto fabulous hip hop dance spectacle with a full narrative and boundless energy, the show was dreamed up in 2005 by Kate Prince who took its characters from traditional fairy tales (as Stephen Sondheim did in his 1986 musical Into the Woods) and put them on the Ruff Endz Estate.
There’s vinyl-spinning Spinderella (Teneisha Bonner) a female DJ with rippling abs; vivacious rapper Rap-On-Zel (Rhimes Lecointe); the hoodie-clad R&B singer Lil’ Red (Sacha Chang); two-timing hip-hop Lothario Prince (Roger Davies); and beat-making, basement-residing producer Jaxx (Rowen Hawkins). As well as this there’s an ensemble cast of smart, sassy street dancers who bop, crump and breakdance their way through a montage of hip-hop, R & B, soul and pop songs that fit perfectly with the modern story.
To get to the fitness level of any of these performers would take a remarkable discipline somewhere in-between that of a dancer and an athlete. The cast of Into the Hoods all display incredible physical strength, stamina and flexibility, as they bounce off the walls for over two hours. They represent a faction that takes its inspiration not from violence, anti-social behaviour and gang culture, but from music, creativity, performance and perseverance.
Into the Hoods is a shining celebration of London’s youth, and a fantastic opportunity to access a generation that may not otherwise be interested in live theatre – a world too often dominated by stuffy, middle-aged, middle-classers with plenty of disposable income. It’s encouraging to see London’s gritty inner-city represented on the West End stage, and to see some hoodies getting (and doing) a really good rap.