Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: The Letter: To Be or to MBE, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Kelly Apter
Having principles is easy when it’s all about words, rather than deeds. Sticking to them in the face of difficulty is where true morality lies – as Jonzi D discovered last year.
A pioneer of hip hop theatre for many years, Jonzi has helped streetdance and breakdance make the not entirely comfortable transition from street to stage. Along with that transition came kudos, popularity and funding – for both him and the genre. The driving force behind the annual Breakin’ Convention festival, Jonzi has given a platform for many young artists who would have otherwise been ignored, and inspired countless others to give dance a try.
So it’s not surprising to hear that somebody saw fit to nominate him for the New Year’s Honours list. Nor that those selecting nominations decided to award Jonzi an MBE for services to dance. What was surprising, for those in Jonzi’s life, was the dilemma it activated.
The show starts on the morning the letter from the government arrived. For the first ten minutes, he says nothing, trying to digest the words then attempting to avoid them. A dancer for many years, physical storytelling comes naturally to Jonzi. What didn’t, was knowing how to respond to the Honour.
Should a black man walk happily into Buckingham Palace and become a Member of the British Empire, knowing the violence and subjugation that empire was once responsible for? It’s a question Jonzi couldn’t answer on his own, so he sought guidance from those around him – all of which is played out here.
Friends and family with wildly differing opinions have their say, each one brought vividly to life by Jonzi with wit and physicality. His delivery not only entertains, but take us to the heart of moral integrity – his and our own. So, did he decide to “Be or MBE”? See the show and find out.
Assembly George Square Theatre, until 31 August, 6:10pm / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 15 August 2015
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