A correspondent (son Ben in this case) has sent me a link to an amazing BBC Blast programme, being broadcast today, which I just have to share. It tells the story of how hip-hop artist Akala worked with a group of young people off the street to present Shakespeare's Othello in his genre. Ben did a workshop with them, and uses the hip-hop parallel in his book Shakespeare on Toast, where he uses an Akala quote at one point.
It's an unexpectedly moving experience, to hear the familiar lines used and reinterpreted in this way, supplemented by the hip-hop rhythms and rhymes. Throughout there's a respect for the original text that is impressive, and the encounter with the play was evidently a Pauline experience for some of the group. One affirms he's going to read more Shakespeare. Another, on a visit to the John Rylands Library in Manchester, to see a real First Folio, talks about feeling humbled at the sight. From being scared about the language they end up mastering it. All evidently fall in love with the poetry of the lines, and perform it well. The extracts from the final performance are enthralling.
Having a blog allows me to congratulate Akala and the whole group in a public way which would not otherwise be possible. Any teacher who's having trouble getting the message across to a class of reluctant teenagers that Shakespeare is relevant, accessible, and generally fantastic will find this programme immensely helpful. I just hope that the BBC will make it widely available in due course.
One of the best bits for me - and something which will surprise a lot of people - were the sequences where lines in Shakespeare and hip-hop lyrics were mixed up, and people were asked to tell which was which. Most got the answers wrong. And I must admit I had trouble myself once or twice.
The show will be online for several days, so if you've got a spare hour, watch it. If you've ever doubted the proposition that Shakespeare can be made interesting to young people today, this will change your view. Here's the link: