The Making of a Monster team are in rehearsals for our latest Wales Millennium Centre production and the building sounds ALIVE!
We caught up with Connor Allen (writer, performer), Conrad Murray (director), Oraine Johnson (music producer, performer) and David Bonnick Jr (performer) to chat music, lyricism and theatre, and how these worlds are coming together to create a high-energy grime-theatre mash-up.
The Making of a Monster is created from grime culture and is an autobiographical show based on Connor's experience growing up as a mixed-race teenager in Newport in the early 2000s.
HOW DOES MUSIC FEATURE IN THE MAKING OF A MONSTER?
OJ: Well, it all started with Connor coming to me saying that he really wanted the show that he had written to feature music and he was very much influenced by grime. And he really wanted it to be his own sort of personal mixtape. He wanted the music to feel like he was having ups and downs and it was a mixtape of all of his influences musically. So, it features in a massive way.
You're gonna get different elements – there's a lot of grime in it, but also different elements that make up the evolution of grime, from hip hop to drum and bass to beats and heavy beats and even some crazy sound effects that you've probably heard samples from that feature in grime tunes. So, it features in a big way, and it gives an extra layer to an already great story.
THE SHOW IS DESCRIBED AS A GRIME-THEATRE MASH-UP. HOW ARE THE TWO WORLDS WORKING TOGETHER?
CM: Well, I guess there are a lot of grime numbers in there and when you're watching, it might feel like you're at a concert. But actually, the lyrics are the storytelling of the show. We fuse everything between the two, so at times you might feel like you're at a gig but then the storytelling fuses into it. And then there's the backing music and the sound effects and also the fashion, it's all grime. So, we're trying to blend it in many different ways. You're kind of like 'Am I at a gig? Am I at a theatre show?' and at times you're not going to know which one you're in!
CA: My early thoughts of 'Monster' were always about taking that energy and that culture of grime, which I loved growing up, and fusing it with theatre in a way that, especially in Wales, we've never really had. It's not a musical, it's not a rapsical. It's not... I don't quite know what it is. But I guess, in a way, that's what grime is. It's a culture, an energy that we all love and we all embrace. And we're trying to mix that with theatre in a way that's refreshing.
OJ: You're right, it is that culture. And you can really feel it within the show. And you don't have to have heard grime or have listened to it earlier to be able to enjoy the show, because it's a human experience, a human story. And you might be able to experience something a little bit different. And that's what theatre's about, it's about escapism.
THE STORY'S ABOUT FINDING YOUR IDENTITY. WHICH ARTISTS INFLUENCED YOU GROWING UP?
CA: Yeah, that's right – the story of The Making of a Monster is about finding your identity, your place in the world, where you fit in. And that is, I think, a universal theme that we all go through at some point in our lives. And I guess I had a lot of help through grime music and through artists and lyrics and storytelling.
You know, Dizzee Rascal, Skepta, Kano – those early pioneers of grime – those artists' albums really resonated with me in a lot of what they were saying and really helped me find my place. When I was too white for my Black friends, but too black for my white friends – all of these questions of 'where do I fit in?' were answered through these artists just making tracks and making songs about where they fitted in, and what they felt, and what their identity was, what it meant to be Black and proud in London. I guess I just found resonance with that when I was growing up.
DBJ: Yeah – I felt the same way myself growing up. I was introduced to grime early in 2000. So, artists I'm really in to are Ghetts, Jme and of course, Dizzee Rascal. Dizzee Rascal was definitely the opener for me. I'd say my favourite artist is Ghetts though, in terms of being outspoken and a great wordsmith and he has the energy. With grime it's like energy on steroids, but well controlled at the same time. I think as a youngster and even in your early 20s, you're still discovering who you are, and with grime music and rap music, there's different characters you can relate to or be inspired by. And that's why – to have that genre in this play – just makes sense.
DO PEOPLE NEED TO BE FAMILIAR WITH GRIME CULTURE TO ENJOY THE SHOW?
CA: No, not in the slightest. The ultimate crux of the story is where do you fit in, where do we fit in, and that's universal to everyone. So, I think when you look at the roots of the storytelling and the story of The Making of a Monster, it's a universal story. And the music, the grime, the spoken word, every element of it enhances the storytelling in a way that – I hope! – will tear up the stage in Wales Millennium Centre. And audiences will love it because we're telling a human story. We're telling my story – but we're also telling your story.