Music / June 14, 2023

This 17th Century Play Is Being Reimagined By Rappers At Beyond The Pale

Image Credit: +353
Music / June 14, 2023

This 17th Century Play Is Being Reimagined By Rappers At Beyond The Pale

Words: Dray Morgan

Kevin Keogh and Arnell Thompson have approached 400-year-old literature from a different angle by turning it into a drill mixtape performance.

The second edition of Beyond the Pale kicks off at Glendalough Estate in Wicklow this weekend. Providing a sophisticated approach to curation alongside a god-tier selection of food and drink, it’s built for the heads that keep their ear to the ground but don’t want to compromise on the finer things in life. With For Those I Love making his only Irish festival performance this summer and Thundercat heading to the main stage, most of the must-sees are self-explanatory. However, one forthcoming performance that may have flown under the radar is ‘The Revenger’s Tragedy’.

A product of the +353 collective, the performance revisits the almost half-century-old text by English playwright Thomas Middleton. Directed by theatre maker Kevin Keogh alongside neuroscientist and cinematographer Arnell Thompson, the unique performance pulls in rappers and other performers to explore the relationship between a text written in 1607 with modern drill culture, the masculine ideology of revenge and the bravado of man.

Rappers Bless and Awkward Z will be performing alongside opera singer Ellen Kelly to portray the tragedy described as, “a vivid and often violent portrayal of lust and ambition in an Italian court”.

The project draws on running themes throughout the play, mirroring those in the world of drill. The comparison of 17th-century Italy and the 21st-century ecosystem of rap, superficiality and hypermasculinity merges worlds like nothing else on display at Beyond The Pale.

“Classical theatre and hip hop have an intrinsic barrier between them” Co-director Kevin Keogh explained, “there’s no need for these conceptual blocks, theatre and drill can exist in the same world.”

Last year at the festival’s first iteration, the duo of directors previewed the opening scene for the project, however, now the show is ready for its exhibition in totality.

The process of creating a final product involved the formation of the collective +353, bringing producers, directors and cinematographers out of their comfort zone to create the show.

Music producer Colin Fitzpatrick worked in tandem with producer KB and explained the adjustment to composing classical tracks, “I had to take parts of classical tracks and turn them into drill music, the first beat I ever made actually made the cut for the show”.

The novel idea was inspired by the burgeoning Irish drill scene centred around Drogheda and artists such as the A92 collective.

‘The Revenger’s Tragedy’ provides a setting for classical theatre and drill fans alike to appreciate the differences and more importantly the similarities of human disposition. The unique experience will feature an amalgamation of string quartets and harsh baselines, exemplifying how 17th-century Italy is not too far from our own reality.

‘The Revenger’s Tragedy’ will be playing the Strawberry Fields on Saturday at 17:15. You can grab tickets to see the performance at Beyond The Pale here.

Elsewhere on District: Listen to Irish drill group A92’s NTS radio show