If you didn’t catch the feature in September’s Brum Notes, The Legend of Mike Smith is the brainchild of the acclaimed Brummie saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch. Dealing with the struggles of the fictional up-and-coming MC Mike Smith, it first saw the light of day as an album, released earlier this year. The stage show, the first production at the Rep’s new Studio theatre, is the consummation of the project, with the record’s rhymes and themes fleshed out by Nat Jones’ striking visuals and Jonzi D’s watertight choreography.
We follow a day in the life of Smith as he gears up for a make-or-break audition at the all-powerful Cerberus Records, his preparations hampered at every turn by the seven deadly sins that surround him. But far from being overbearingly conceptual or unremittingly bleak, the play is hugely engaging, as hilarious as it is thought-provoking.
Its appeal is down in no small part to the charm of the three actors who together play the role of Smith – Tyrone Isaac Stuart, Ricardo Da Silva and Kinch himself. Splitting Smith into three is a device which works incredibly well – for example, when Kinch acts as the slothful devil on Da Silva’s shoulder, distracting him from his work.
Despite Kinch’s immense charisma and undeniable musical chops, he’s careful not to steal the show. Most of the sax blowing takes place behind Jones’ backdrop, and his turns on the mic – dazzling in their speed, ingenious in their word play – always serve to advance the story rather than to grandstand.
As Kinch said in September’s Brum Notes, it’s truly a work that defies pigeonholing. The genre mangling, social awareness, healthy cynicism and sense of fun are perhaps summed up best with the unlikely call-and-response audience participation, “Privatise the gains / Socialise the losses!” It’s a wonderful play, with its appeal stretching far beyond theatre regulars and hip-hop aficionados.