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The Theatreguide.London Review

Poet In Da Corner

Dizzee Rascal's fast, angry 2003 grime album 'Boy in Da Corner' won the Mercury prize and was later to inspire Debris Stevenson to create with Jammz the performance piece 'Poet in Da Corner'.

At age 13, when she first heard the album, it spoke to the way she felt about the world in which she was dyslexic, bullied at school, lonely and frustrated with a Mormon mother (here played by Stacey Abalogun), whose reaction to her own abuse was to parade God and to 'pass your trauma till it's gone. . . pass it on.'

Debris says that until then 'reality felt unreliable'. Then some kid gave her the CD of 'Boy in Da Corner', which in turn gave her 'permission' to express herself and 'what I want to do is make a change'.

She became a grime poet and with others created the exciting 'Poet in Da Corner', an autobiographical story told in dance and importantly, the rapid syncopated dance rhythms of grime.

There are clips from Dizzee's music, where he tells us he is 'Just sittin here. I ain’t saying much. I just watch'. The landscape of the album's songs is bleak and urban, and there is an ever-present sense of physical danger.

All that is familiar to Debris and it's there in her show, but she's a white girl and that is something a black hooded figure suddenly rising from his seat in the Royal Court circle says is a problem. This is Jammz, who we soon realise is part of the performance, mostly sitting on the side, acting as a sceptic to her version of history, accusing her of 'appropriating our culture and acting innocent [while he is] tired of being a white girl's inspiring anecdote'.

'I'm a black boy. . .so many places I don't feel safe but you would invade my space. . .Don't repack my trauma'.

It is true that the beat of police hassle Dizzee experienced doesn’t run in Stevenson's piece, though the show recalls the notorious 2005 use of Asbos and Form 696 given to venues by the Met police requiring details of the ethnicity of their audience as a 'risk assessment' that helped shut down grime raves.

However, for all those of us who loved the sound of 'Boy in Da Corner' but hated the stupidity and nasty double standards of its depiction of women as oversexed 'pretty but ain't got a brain', we have something much better, something different fromDebris.

She lets us glimpse that Dizzee image of girls as the 'Jezzy' who are shamed and shunned if they show even the slightest sexual freedom so celebrated for the boys and for the Dizzee of that album. But Debris then gives us the other side of a woman's right to choose who she loves in defiance of mother, of religion and of the boys she mixes with, letting us see her own sexual awakening with 'the real Jezi, . . .hair spiralling down her back'.

This may have been the Royal Court Theatre, but that didn't stop the audience dancing and cheering. I only wish Dizzee Rascal had been there, to learn a few things from the poet he inspired.

Keith McKenna

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Review -  Poet In Da Corner - Royal Court Theatre 2020