Named after the Beastie Boys’ debut album, Licensed To Ill is an 80-minute thrill ride through the Brooklyn trio’s illustrious career, and their place in the history of hip hop. Devised by the company, the show has visited several venues around the country & is now resident at Southwark Playhouse in the lead up to Christmas.
Using a combination of music, dance, physical theatre & comedy, the cast of four begin with a pre-show jam session before launching into Ch-Check It Out. In order to contextualise the Beastie Boys’ place in music history, we begin with a brief history of hip hop (from New York City, 1967). After that, the group’s development from punk band (the Young Aborigines) to their final hip hop line up is played out, followed by record contracts, tours & the seemingly inevitable exploitation by management. Their later years are shown in sketch form, culminating in a performance of Intergalactic.
There is a significant amount of audience participation involved at various points during the show, to bolster numbers – for example, to create the video shoot for (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!) and to ensure that their original female drummer (Kate Schellenbach) is present. This works absolutely brilliantly in the fairly intimate surroundings of The Little, and the enthusiasm of the cast sets aside any feelings of self-consciousness or misgivings (especially as they’re seemingly unafraid of getting a note-taking critic onstage!).
The design of the whole piece is instantly engaging – from the initial hit of Jemima Robinson’s set (a stage plastered in brightly coloured graffiti by Rosie Murray), along with a variety of wonderful costumes designed by Robinson with Ellie Wilding, including the universally recognisable VW medallion sported by Mike D. All put together it brings the Beastie Boys’ world vividly to life.
The addition of live music from the cast, to book-end the show, injects another level of dynamism – and gels it together as a complete piece.
The cast of four bring a terrific energy, with exceptional performance value. Tope Mikun takes on a number of roles, including DJ; he is admirably committed to each character, and is especially entertaining with puppet in hand.
Adam El Hagar, Daniel Foxsmith & Simon Maeder have fantastic chemistry as MCA, Ad-Rock & Mike D. Their passion for the Beastie Boys’ music & story is clear and completely irresistible – it is what makes the show such a success, and one that is suitable for everyone from the completely uninitiated, to the casual listener & even the superfan. They all have a natural instinct for comedy & are a pleasure to watch with microphone or instrument in hand. Truly one of the best ensemble performances I have seen all year.
My verdict? An all-out comedy biography of a hugely influential, but often overlooked, band in the history of hip hop that is a real breath of fresh air – I recommend you all ch-check it out!
Licensed To Ill runs at the Southwark Playhouse (The Little) until 24 December 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.