Every year Humber Mouth commissions new work, new writing to be debuted during the festival. Lexi, Or Electra Retold is one of those pieces. Performed by Grace Savage singer/songwriter and champion beatboxer, written by Laura Turner and directed by Jake Smith, with original music Grace Savage. Lexi was a work in progress show, presented at The Gulbenkian Theatre at Hull University, but will be for some, their highlight of this year’s Humber Mouth. The audience was younger, the story was told in spoken word and song: contemporary yet historic with some bad ass beats.
Taking the classic Greek story of Electra and putting it in a modern setting, we are thrust into a tough world, where Lexi is just finding her feet as a performer. Her Dad is her hero he is making things happen, he is encouraging her, he is believing in her. Lexi gets up on that stage in the social club and smashes it.
’Tonight she is full of sisterly pride’
On the stage Grace is playing a character, acting the part of Lexi, to the right is her loop station, there she creates incredible sounds with her lips, tongue and voice, loops and layers them, creating the beats. As Grace says the lines she is simultaneously sound engineering, in order to create the right sonic landscape.
There’s a heartfelt gift and a real gig offer and Lexi feels this is her time to shine. Headphones on stood by the loop station Lexi/Grace listens to the sounds as she makes them, spitting and popping, ‘ Hero in your own story…’ she sings. ‘The only girl on stage.’
A great line sums up how she is now feeling, ’She is riding high, fuel of being adored.’ She’s got the God of War around her neck so you know the battle is coming, but the first battle she faces is online, not on stage, with bitchy, sexist comments from haters, who can’t bare to see a girl representing. It’s a threat to their masculinity and one boy, a beatboxer too, has Lexi doubting herself ‘ He’s got it in his blood’ she says. He says he wants to see her buried.
Then from out of nowhere, no mic, just sat, Lexi a true vocal percussionist, echoing refrains a cappella. This track Medusa, given breath, given life before our eyes, will become darker more strident, a powerful digital marching beat, thick with menace and purpose.
As she sings Grace’s voice soars, filling the theatre, her style shifts from R & B to hip hop and latterly a strong pop edge. There is also a noticeable dynamic shift, as the tension builds in the story, the voicing changes, perhaps representing the gradual embodying of the deity; the process of transformation.
‘No more Lexi, this girl, your girl, is Electra now.’
After the show during the Q & A we learn more about the process of creating the work. Writer Laura Turner explains about the importance of creating a believable modern context for the classic tale to play out in. When asked about how the 35/40 min show might develop Director Jake Smith suggested he’d like to see more visual elements… self made imagery in a VR setting, with other performers and DJs for the club scenes. A suggestion from the audience comes saying it is perfect for radio, seeing that it relies purely on the audio and the imagination of the audience.
Grace, who began beatboxing aged fifteen, talks about the way the music industry is depicted in the story, how they’d explored the idea of having a cigar smoking Svengali figure. ‘There’s different paths to success, today it is all about the DIY Generation.’ Making beats in their bedroom, using the technology and social media to get the sounds heard. Grace paints a picture of the early days of beat-boxing, the supportive online forums the camaraderie within the beat-boxing community. Now as beat-boxing grows, steps out the shadows, with twelve year olds on Youtube, the battles play out online and they can get nasty. As with many online platforms, there is negativity, trolling and vicious, sexually, violent comments. Not only must you be incredibly talented, tech savvy, but also it would seem, incredibly thick-skinned if you want to survive in that world.
Final word on Lexi, Or Electra Retold I can see more scope for development but I’d be wary, if bringing in more visual elements, about losing the essence of the piece, the power of the voice, and a rare chance for just that to dominate.
In terms of the story, it stops at a pivotal moment, a moment that then allows the piece to resonate in the mind, you as listener, can imagine the next scene. For some audiences, as it proved tonight, they will want to know what happens next, be shown what becomes of Electra.