There was advance additional information sent out to the audience members of I Believe. First – wear black party attire, because it’s a celebration of black excellence. I wore my black Levis, black Loïc Nottet t-shirt, and casual black tuxedo. Even if I say so myself, I looked pretty nifty for someone who’s got an AWFULLY big birthday coming up next year. Talking of which, the second advance notice was to bring ID. No ID, no entry, them’s the rules. I haven’t been asked my ID since the 1980s, but, as a naturally obedient chap, I brought my passport. Just as well, as it was the first thing that the no-nonsense nightclub manager asked for when I got to the front door. I knew she was going to be trouble later on.
Receiving that advance information helps give you expectations about what’s to follow, which meant, for me, that I was really looking forward to seeing this show. And what Na-Keisha Glenn and her OVM team have created is a very strong sense of occasion, using the basement nightclub at the Platform to its fullest extent, with rows of complementary drinks on the bar, proper loud R&B through the speakers, dazzling disco lights, gregarious welcome hosts Joycelyn and Azreal, snazzy MC Black Dynamite singing and dancing on stage, and “token white girl” Rosemarie giving it large on the decks. Although you knew it was an artificial situation, a play, it felt 100% real. So when innocent young Lisa turns up, and there’s a bit of a rumpus on the dance floor, and she’s escorted away, you really feel as though you’re watching a genuine event unfold before your eyes.
Lisa’s young. She’s naïve. She’s heard that R. Kelly is coming to Northampton and she cannot believe her luck that she’s going to meet her hero. She’s got all the merch. And she’s prepared his song I Believe I Can Fly to sing to him. Would we like to hear it? Of course we would. She’s got a great singing voice. She really could become a star. Especially if he spends some time with her.
Vignettes of a harrowing night out, with vicious bouncers, assault, violence and a terrifying abrupt ending which stuns us into silence, all framed by a fun party with mates to cool music in a sophisticated club, the stark contrast of the pleasure and the pain is very powerfully presented. After we clearly witness an abduction, with the victim kicking and screaming, and no one is helping her, I said to Joycelyn that I was worried about her and should we see that she’s ok, but Joycelyn replied that, no, she’s just a teenager kicking off… And that’s how easily violence and assault can be overlooked. Alongside these scenes we hear genuine radio news reports about the allegations against R. Kelly, as well as reading posters on the way out about how he has used his position of influence to abuse underage girls. Sadly, that naïve young Lisa is probably just one of many to have their innocence taken away so wickedly. As for Joycelyn and Azreal, in real life they’re two girls who have lived with R. Kelly for many years. No wonder our Joycelyn wasn’t bothered to step in to help someone who was clearly in trouble.
Performing most of these roles is Na-Keisha Glenn and she is superb. A terrific singer, a strong stage presence, and a beautifully clear and expressive speaking voice, she is definitely One To Watch. Lesley ‘Rietta’ Cobbina, Nicolle Harris, and Elias Chambers provide great support as the rest of the nightclub performers. A unique entertainment with a forceful message, and unquestionably a highlight of this year’s Fringe Festival.