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Feature in Issue 19-2 | Summer 2007

Michelle Reid meets up with Benji Reid.

Benji Reid is a creative producer, deviser and director, and has been creating hip-hop theatre for over ten years. He trained as a dancer with the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and as an actor with Philippe Gaulier and Double Edge Theatre. Following his years as a freelance performer he formed Breaking Cycles.

Benji’s street dance and hip-hop has brought him a wealth of accolades and achievements: GLC Break-Dance Champions with Broken Glass Street Crew, European Body-Popping Champion, and 2nd in the 1986 World Dance Championships. Benji has also worked with musicians Soul II Soul as the main dancer and (co-)choreographer for their world tour.

In theatre, Benji has worked widely with highly regarded companies such as the David Glass Ensemble, Trestle Theatre, Theatr Clwyd and Black Mime Theatre. It was with Black Mime Theatre that Benji first became interested in directing. After his first production co-directing Jonzi D’s solo show Aeroplane Man (1996) Benji went on to direct his first main stage play, the hip hop musical Avalanche for Nottingham Playhouse. This became the starting point for his company Breaking Cycles.

Mr Sole Abode is a new piece devised by Benji Reid and physical theatre performer Leo Kay (artistic director of London based company Madrugada).

Partly inspired by Nigerian writer Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, Mr Sole Abode is an exploration of the spirit, the body, and the conflict between the two. It is a one-man show (performed by Leo) about a self-proclaimed architect who has grown weary of living in modern society and decides to live in a fridge. This description just scratches on the surface of a play that has much depth and many layers to be unravelled. For a piece that is just short of an hour, it explores some expansive ideas, and, like Benji’s other work, continues to raise thought-provoking questions.

I met with Benji to talk about the production. ‘We explore ideas of perception and sanity and consider the thin line between the sane and the insane,’ Benji tells me. ‘Leo embraces the ideas of quantum physics and the question of truth, and how one is able to change the reality they live in through changing their patterns of perception.’

I asked Benji whether he thought it was possible to successfully opt out of ‘normal life’, and his response was to highlight the many different types of ways that people have made this a reality. These examples include London Waterloo’s cardboard city in the 1990s and squatters in areas of his hometown, Manchester, but his most affecting inspirations were the disused tunnels under Manhattan’s West Side.

There is a strong poetic influence in Mr Sole Abode; the dialogue is peppered with poetry, rhythmical and fluid, which keeps this work fresh, vibrant and impassioned.

‘There are three things I like to explore as a physical actor,’ Benji reveals. ‘Music, language and movement, and how interlinked the three can be.’

As for the future for the two collaborators, Leo has in mind two pieces of work that he is looking for partners and producers for, based around scientific and spiritual philosophy and humanitarian issues. Meanwhile, watch out for Benji’s new physical theatre piece, as yet untitled, inspired by Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.

Breaking Cycles are dedicated to creating and producing inclusive, highly energised and emotionally conflicting physical theatre. They want to challenge the boundaries of multi-disciplined artforms. Mr Sole Abode is movement theatre at its most reflective. After watching this, you leave the theatre with more questions than answers, examining yourself and the society in which you live; something that more theatre should be doing.

This article in the magazine

Issue 19-2
p. 25