London-based Beats & Elements are made up of Conrad Murray – who directed the acclaimed BAC Beatboxing Academy production of Frankenstein: How To Make a Monster and composed the soundtrack to the recent acclaimed Pilot Theatre production of Crongton Knights – and storyteller, poet, rapper and theatre-maker, Paul Cree, whose credits include performing around the UK at festivals and events, such as Bestival, Latitude, Secret Garden Party, One Taste and Edinburgh Fringe.
Beats & Elements and Camden People’s Theatre’s 2015 production of No Milk for the Foxes, which explored David Cameron’s England from the perspective of the working class through spoken word, beatboxing and live looping, has now been released online.
Your 2015 production of No Milk for the Foxes is currently streaming, what can you tell us about it?
Conrad: It was about two characters from Croydon based on our own experiences and people we grew up with. We use hip hop, spoken word and beatbox to tell the story.
Paul: It focuses on their story and struggle on zero hours contracts and in the end, even though they are friends they are pitted against each other by unfair circumstances.
Conrad: It took us 4 years to get the footage back of the show. We paid for it, and the manic videographer ran off with it and refused to give it over…We got it back though..
Where did the inspiration for the play initially come from?
Conrad: We felt like our story, and the story of working-class people was not being fairly portrayed. Especially stories from inner city London. There is always this perception that London is for the rich, but working-class people of all kinds are treated unfairly in this country. I’m inspired by old TV shows with working class characters like Steptoe & Son. Plus, artists like Tupac who wasn’t afraid to be political and emotional.
Paul: We’d both come across Owen Jones’s Chavs book, at the time of writing, which resonated a lot with what we were thinking and talking about at the time.
Conrad: We also wanted to create an opportunity for ourselves that wasn’t there. There weren’t any opportunities to do our thing, and show this kind of work was something that we were hyped about and wanted to show the world.
Why do you think it’s still as relevant today as it was under Cameron’s coalition government?
Conrad: We are STILL FUCKED. And it is getting worse. People are less class aware and being distracted. In No Milk the characters believe they are against one another, because of race and other things. We hope that it will get people thinking.
Paul: As it stands, many people’s employment conditions, prospects and living situations are even more precarious than they were in 2015, it’s vital that these are highlighted. How are food banks even a thing?
Tell us more about how spoken word, beatboxing and looping combine in this production?
Conrad: I recently had a 5 star show with Frankenstein with the Beatbox Academy, and I was playing around with aesthetic No Milk. I have been experimenting with hip hop theatre and beatbox for years, and had my own hip hop group rODIUM and record label. I always wanted to experiment with forms and bring the club, or elements of the open mic night to the stage. A lot of people haven’t seen rap onstage, and this is an opportunity to hear some BANGING tunes.
Paul: My background is as a rapper and an MC and then latterly spoken word and theatre. When I first worked with Conrad, back in 2015, he convinced me that we should be using these tools, along with beatboxing, to create shows, simply, as that was the main skills we both had. I’ve always been a believer in making best use of what you’ve got, so it made total sense that we used those attributes. Using them in the show allowed us to as add another dimension to the storytelling, like internal thoughts are using it to show the passing of time.
Why do you think working class voices are especially important in theatre at this time?
Conrad: A lot of the streaming shows currently online are the same usual faces from the same venues. It’s all posh and major dosh. There needs to be more of the smaller grittier shows like ours. There is a lack of representation within the theatre when it comes to class, from the perspective of characters and creators. We need to think about the issues and values which we share, that can bring us together. Workers’ rights have been eroded, support for unions has gone. Art helps us to look at the world and explore and understand.
Paul: Hopefully, it will widen the conversation on how working-class people are depicted and what they experience. It’s through dialogue that we can move things forward, for the betterment of everyone. Maybe, years into the future, some sort of historian will want to research into these times, to see what life was like for different sorts of people, if you’ve only got one type of voice it’s going to create a very limited picture, ultimately, you want a situation where all levels of society are represented.
What would you say to anyone thinking of watching No Milk for the Foxes?
Conrad: Do it! It’s serious, but you will have a good time! It’s a funny show with great music and writing. Send us money through our Patreon!
Paul: Do it, hopefully you’ll enjoy and if you don’t, you at least you would’ve helped support some artists in these current times (especially if you drop a bit of dough in the Patreon)