N-8SIXTEEN32 – a new phone you want, as endorsed by X-Man. Features a beat making software preinstalled and a built-in sub woofer for phat beats. With it you won’t need your friends – they’ll need you! The N-81632!
Grime is a topic few have decided to cover as a subject in theatre. The nearest thing to it was the film One Day, notoriously banned in Birmingham. Misunderstandings of an underground culture can be destructive for some projects. Interestingly, 8SIXTEEN32 is both from Birmingham about grime, in association with the Birmingham REP.
The play takes place across three locations, the street, club (Club Ting, a fantastic choice of name!) and yard. Rtkal, Evoke, Professor D and LCB are a group of friends all transfixed on the latest N-81632 phone, marketed specifically at grime rappers. With all the latest features and more, its perfect for any grime MC looking for a big break.
An ominious phone call between two marketing executives breaks the action between the MCs’ conversation introducing the evil entity. “I can’t believe it, they’re actually biting [the bait]! Sales are through the roof!”
Yes, like Markus the Sadist, 8SIXTEEN32 is a story of commercial companies taking an interest in an underground scene and milking it for profit, the idea to shift units of the N-81632 to grime fans through a corporate sponsored battle, which will ultimately end up with rivalry within their friendships.
The MC’s banter is relatable if you’re an inner city local (some might need to brush up on Jamaican patois) and their rowdy but excitable behaviour comes across as true and humorous, but not in a satirical way. For anyone who’s been on a London bus around the time school finishes, you’ll be laughing to yourself when they press their phone up to the bus window to amplify the sound!
The lyrics are tight, with each MC bringing their own flows to the mix, partnering words with theatrical movements to keep action continuous, and jokes are plentiful. What Would You Do With 100 Grand is one of the full length songs with verses and chorus, where the MCs pull out stunner shades and gold chains. You think the song goes a bit cliché until Evoke spits a verse about saving his money and putting his kids through school!
Although basic, using oveturned tables serving as sub woofers, a club bar and the back of a bus, there’s creative play with the set, using the curtain on the back wall in one scene to emphasise the bass line of the instrumental. All are signified by neon lights, which is a basic prop, but the attention is on the dialogue anyway.
There are a few gaps in 8SIXTEEN32, such as why the ominous marketing voices couldn’t have been one of the cast in silhouette, for example, to make the breaks in the action less blatant.
I was unsure about the repetition of X-Man’s advert, although I assume it was to show the over saturation of the advert into their minds, but once again the stopping and starting of the action was a little distracting an not made obvious enough.
Considering doing a play about grime was daring, 8SIXTEEN32 is an example of a conscious approach to something people are passionate about, especially when so many underground cultures end with large corporations rinsing them.
The energy of grime music is authentic and the MCs all come off clean, and with its sense of humour and throbbing basslines, 8SIXTEEN32 is another great piece of urban theatre.
If you liked this, also worth seeing is Ghost Boy (read review)