Saturday, May 25, 2019

Woke - Review -Northern Stage

23rd May 2019

Of late it seems to be my fate to find myself at Northern Stage surrounded by people half my age. I'm not complaining. I think it's commendable of Northern Stage to seek to reach out to a new younger audience. It's just – you know – I don't really know what I'm talking about here.

Woke is a one-man show by south London rapper, Testament, who describes himself a human beatbox and conscious MC. Are they actual things or is he making it up?

Human beatboxing, according to my friend Wiki, is a type of vocal percussion, imitating drum machines, using mouth, lips, tongue and voice; it may also, as in this case be vocal imitation of turntabling and other musical instruments. 

I know nothing about hip-hop but I can recognise skills. Testament is an amazing performer, not just vocally, sampling and turntabling a range of styles. 

His theatre skills are enviable. He interacts with his little daughter Elise so convincingly we believe she is there, and I as an audience member felt none of the usual awkwardness in greeting her likewise as if she were really there.

Woke is about the impact of having his daughter on Testament; how her birth made him question the culture of rap but also of wider society. It's a mixture of spoken word, live theatre and hip hop rap, which manages to get its message across with wit and passionate style. Testament goes through the history of rap and its precursors and manages to subvert rap's own techniques -- rewinds, remix and repetition – to underscore the insistent sexism and an echo-y meaninglessness at its heart.

The track 'Ojectify' (which you can download at:, all profits go to is a masterpiece of satire and rap beats. It's the skills that lift this show out of worthiness into something that rap's own audience can relate to and question their own assumptions.
But it's not just a critique of rap culture, an easy target, which comfortably lets white liberals off the hook. He examines the stereotypes of the 'black father': "My wife – oh you're surprised? You thought I had a baby-mother?"; or of being congratulated for playing with his own child at the playground.
He also situates it within the sexism of the wider culture, through a mash-up of film and tv tropes that emphasise female passivity and objectification.

What sort of a society is he bringing his little girl up in?

He ended the show by acknowledging the irony of a one-man show about girls and sexism, asking the
women in the audience to give their advice to Elise, or "What would you like to tell your younger self?" The response was all a bit affirmative, like the insta poems of Rupi Kaur. But maybe that's just me being a bitter old woman, and young women are much nicer. (My contribution was: don't take any bullshit.)

Testament than improvised a rap from the advice solicited.

Seriously, it was a great night, great skills. I wished the audience was a hundred times bigger. Testament is a voice that should be heard.
*pics courtesy of Northern Stage  

Gerry Byrne

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