Although time travel isn’t possible, ZooNation’s Tales of the Turntable takes viewers on a historical musical journey through the decades. A boy and his grandfather trace the progression of hip-hop from its early origins through funk, soul and disco to house and rap. Funnily, the dance theatre piece was inspired in part by Back to the Future and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Written by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille with music by DJ Walde, Tales of the Turntable was commissioned by Southbank Centre. Read about the heart-warming family-friendly show below.  

 ZooNation Youth Company

Artistic director, Kate Prince, founded the UK-based ZooNation Youth Company in 2002. According to the company biography, Prince “founded ZooNation as a company that could highlight the skills of … ‘backing dancers’” – or dancers that backed up music acts on television and in music videos. The youth performance company choreographed pieces for special events, such as Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations, the Laurence Olivier Awards, the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Handover Ceremonies and the IOC opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. Other ZooNation productions include Some Like It Hip HopInto the Hoods: Remixed and Groove on Down the Road. ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company is a resident company of Sadler’s Wells – and it was selected as an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation for 2018-22.

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Tales of the Turntable Review

In just 75 minutes, Tales of the Turntable takes pit stops throughout the decades, inspecting the music and movements that have evolved and trickled into today’s hip-hop culture. The young aspirational DJ, Eric (Basit Ayanwusi), finds himself in the timeless debate about what is cool – and what’s not – with his grandfather, George (William Pascua). Think of banter between the Fresh Prince of Belair and Uncle Phil – but less jovial and more moody.

The show really kicks off when Grandpa George asks: “What if I could show you where your music comes from?”

As George sets a record on his gramophone, it hurls him and Eric back into the finger snapping, hip bouncing jazz era at The Kit Club. The joint erupts in a chaos-induced jive, as a mobster in a black suit and white pinstripes shakes up the joint, but the dance battle chases him out – punctuated by Grandpa George, triumphantly lifting a mop high over head!

The fast-paced, one-act hip-hop theatre darts between past eras and present day, as the reticent DJ navigates his way through school and bullying. As Eric prepares to compete in the school’s talent show, he takes several trips into the past with Grandpa George, zippy video games sounds and trailing lights of the beehive shaped set accompanying the act of time travel.

The duo land at the Funky Town Record Shop in 1978, where the inhabitants wear funky rainbow patterned clothing, offset by neutrals, including a long brown leather fringed vest. In another scene, they find kids tagging the brick walls of their turf and dancing on what looks like a large piece of cardboard – a nod to the early breakdance scene. When an outsider crew infringes, a kid-friendly ‘You Got Served’-esque dance battle commences with a bit of break, some freestyle dancing and tricking thrown into the mix.

The clever dance theatre performance incorporates a catalogue of different dance genres – from jive to disco, locking, the (real) Harlem Shake, vogueing and krump. Although unexpectedly devoid of James Brown, Tales of the Turntable includes “I Want Your Love” (Chic), “It’s Tricky” (Run DMC) and some ramp up songs that you’d hear at large sporting events in the 90s (or, perhaps, in Space Jam). The finale flashes combines a range of these dance styles and includes a few notes on the steel drums to reference the African diaspora dance origins that fed into hip-hop culture.

The real Harlem Shake actually looks like dancing.
Watch how Harlem locals do the Harlem Shake.

About a quarter of the production shows characters pantomiming over the pre-recorded narration. Although it’s slightly corny, the show is so cute and wholesome, it’s easy to embrace – especially when carried with Pascua’s comedic effect. There are some places with basic buddy-buddy partnerwork (clasping hands and leaning back to back), but there’s plenty of great choreography, too – so all is forgiven.  

This hip-hop theatre show is thoughtfully constructed and performed by exuberant new talent. What more can you ask for?

Star Rating:


Did you watch ZooNation perform Tales of the Turntable? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!

Tales of the Turntable? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!


Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received complimentary admission to provide an open and honest dance show review.

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