There are some things guaranteed over the next two years. Science will take a more centre stage in public consciousness. Gil Scott Heron will come to England. Comedian Marcus Brigstocke will shoot through the stratosphere and Shlomo s new theatre show Boxed will be a hit.
Last night I saw a preview of Boxed at the Purcell Rooms at Southbank Centre: it’s the first theatrical exploration by a prodigiously talented classically trained beatboxer who became artist in residence at the Southbank centre a year or two ago on an invite by Jude Kelly the artistic director. And he’s never looked back.
Through the music people at Southbank centre – Jane Beese, Glen Max, Gillian Moore – Shlomo spearheaded Music Through Unconventional Means which
is exactly what it says. MTUM sells out the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s 850 seats on a yearly basis and wows thousands at Glastonbury Festival each year. He set up a vocal orchestra too and through Southbank centre along with Battersea Arts centre a whole Beat-box education wing emerged. The Shlomo brand was being formed.
Southbank centre have hothoused the flower. Through beatbox and through conventional means Shlomo through his unconventional talent has formed a solid audience with good management and at the heart of his affairs a strong family.
These elements may be key to his success but at its heart, pure talent.
But the question can’t help be asked. Where do you go with a vocal orchestra? Once audience understands the process what you have is basically a human jukebox. Memories of another “vocal orchestra” The Flying Pickets hover on
the periphery. The Flying pickets were originally actors from scotlands 7:84 Theatre Company through artistic director the late John McGrath. Incidentally his daughter Kate McGrath is an award winning theatre producer and partner of Tom Morris associate director at The National Theatre and director at the Bristol Old Vic.
One of the key elements of all the artists in residence is innovation. Unlike The Flying Pickets, vocal orchestra is not a sideline gig for Shlomo, it is the main idea and in so much Shlomo is taking it too its limits: to places it hasn’t been before. And so we arrive at Boxed. I came tonight with actor and artist Rizwan Ahmed and sat spellbound. I was enthralled, entertained and at times nearly moved. I sat and watched an entire show with a clear narrative which did not include one single spoken sentence – pure music, pure theatre – and I loved it.
The artist in residency programme at Southbank centre is about exploration, innovation and creation – it is evident in Shlomo. His unashamed reach for the populist vote, the the arts may serve him more than the record industry could, is no better situated than one of the greatest arts centres of the world thus proving how the industry has changed. He says “My residency at Southbank Centre has allowed me to explore boundaries of my art form in ways I’d never imagined.” It is to the benefit of us all. If you can get to see Boxed then do: Beatboxing may not save the world yet but it saved Shlomo. And I for one am thankful of that.