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Award-winning company HighRise Entertainment challenge myths about UK Drill music and its links to youth violence in their latest show

A man wearing a face covering holds white flowers in front of a block of flats. Three men stand in a group behind him.

The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award 2022
The UK Drill Project
HighRise Entertainment

Download images and trailer here

Three years in the making, the Barbican presents the world premiere of The UK Drill Project by HighRise Entertainment this November. Challenging myths about UK Drill music and its links to youth violence, this radically honest and direct show, created and directed by Dominic Garfield, takes real-life experiences to explore the truths behind the headlines. HighRise Entertainment are joint winners of The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award with Zoo Co.

Drill originated from Chicago’s Southside rap scene that gained popularity in the early 2010’s. With its melodic and dark undertones, its coded lyrics often explore the aspirations and struggles of young people.

Developed through conversation with artists on the scene and devised by members of the company, The UK Drill Project explores the perceived relationship between musicality and criminality. It asks: with the criminal justice system putting this music on trial and the ensuing moral panic in the media, can we as a society really blame an art form for a spike in violence?

Acting as a curtain raiser to the show, HighRise presents an immersive exhibition, curated by Sampira Al-Fihri, which invites audiences to enter the debate around the links between UK Drill music and criminality: does Drill music provoke violence amongst young people? Or does the music reflect the political and social environment that young people are growing up in inner-city Britain? The immersive event will reveal the humanity behind one of the most controversial genres of music. With a live DJ set, playful installations and performers guiding the audiences through every step, the exhibition offers real representation of UK Drill to people already familiar with the scene and an insight to a new world for curious minds.

Dominic Garfield, Director of The UK Drill Project, said:
“We began working on this piece in 2019 and were talking about a sub-genre people knew very little about. It was being demonised by the government and press with criminal injunctions and criminal records served to artists for their music and lyrics. Today, UK Drill music dominates the charts, radio, fashion, social media and UK street culture. While the media move onto their next hot topic, what isn’t understood is the part to play this music and the culture that surrounds it now has in the criminal justice system. With young people having their involvement in Drill videos and social media presence used against them in UK courts weekly, it feels like a massively important time to tell this eye-opening story. Our audiences can expect a brutally raw and honest account about the links between music and crime, told through original music, video design and verbatim testimony from artists, youth workers, criminal barristers and young people across the UK.”

Ciaran Thapar, author of Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City and collaborator on The UK Drill Project, said:
It's been cathartic and a pleasure to help create The UK Drill Project with HighRise over the last three years. British youth culture is in an exciting but strange place. UK rap and drill music is hitting the charts and commanding an expanding global audience. But it's easy to forget that these genres are being policed more than ever before, mostly behind closed doors, in the education system and in the courts. There are more rappers in London getting record deals than ever, yet there are also more rappers getting sent to prison because of lyrics they wrote. Using tragedy and comedy, and by constructing a moving narrative that's true to life, HighRise are proving, once again, how the social realities of young people in the inner-city can be explored with nuance and delicacy on stage. This play is an IRL antidote to the digital remoteness of our new world. Audiences can expect to be challenged and entertained. It also feels important that the findings in my book, Cut Short, have a new form in which to be expressed. See you there!”

Alongside a schools’ engagement programme delivered by HighRise, there will be a performance for schools and young people and a post-show Q&A with Dominic Garfield and members of the cast.

On Wednesday 16 November at 7pm, the Barbican hosts a panel discussion in the Frobisher Auditorium led by Ciaran Thapar, which will look at the themes in The UK Drill Project. Tickets for the discussion will go on sale shortly.

HighRise is an award-winning multi-arts collective that represents unheard communities and stories of contemporary Inner-city Britain. Using rap music, theatre, subcultures, politics and heritage at the heart of their work, HighRise is at the frontline of youth arts engagement across the UK where their productions, programmes, consultancy and mentoring schemes offer deep engagement in forgotten areas of Britain. Partners have included Nike, The National Theatre, the Barbican Centre, Centre Point and The Metropolitan Police, as well as specialised art conservatoires including East 15 Acting school, Central School of Speech and Drama and Northampton University.

HighRise Entertainment are joint winners of this year’s Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award along with Zoo Co whose Perfect Show for Rachel is presented in The Pit (Fri 18 – Sat 26 Nov 2022). This is an exciting opportunity for the Barbican to collaborate with, and learn from companies, who have inclusivity and accessibility at the heart of their work. With the full and generous support of the Trust, each company has been awarded the full prize money to realise their proposal, which they’ve been developing over the past couple of years. In collaboration with the Barbican, HighRise Entertainment and Zoo Co will deliver artist workshops for Barbican Theatre Open Lab alumni and other early and mid-career artists this autumn.

Notes to Editors

Dominic Garfield is a writer, director, rapper and actor from North London. He is Artistic Director and CEO of HighRise Entertainment. His writing and directing credits include Lil.Miss.Lady (The Roundhouse, High Tide), The Concrete Jungle Book (Artsdepot, Pleasance), My Generation (The Orange Tree), Penny Lane (The Yard) Merryville (Camden People’s Theatre, Latitude), Saturnalia (Contact), Big Foot (Tara Arts, Black Theatre Live) and Big Smother (Brixton House). Dominic’s work as a facilitator and young peoples director has seen him build programmes and deliver work with The National Theatre, Royal Exchange Manchester, Shoreditch Town Hall, The Place, Cambridge Junction, Talawa, Cardboard Citizens and Coney. His work has seen him travel across the world and he uses a unique practice of blending playful, immersive and thought-provoking theatre with Hip Hop and Grime music to connect and inspire young audiences and participants. His experience with musicology, youth work and local politics puts Dominic in an exciting position to lead the creative process on The UK Drill Project, bringing together some of the most exciting multi-talented artists to debate, devise and design this show.

Kwame ‘KZ’ Kwei-Armah Jnr is Executive Music Director for The UK Drill Project. KZ is an Executive Record producer, writer and content maker. Recent credits include Top Boy, the upcoming Black Panther movie and Mood (BBC 3). He produces for and works with world renowned and local artists such as Kelis, Amaarae, Wretch 32, Kojey Radical, Stormzy, Labrinth, Ms Banks and Emeli Sande.

Vocal Director Toni "Reese" Robinson is probably best known as the voice and writer of "Did Somebody Say Just Eat" campaign (2019 - date) with Snoop Dogg. Toni’s Gospel Choir performer on UK rapper Kano’s Hoodies All Summer tour, with performances on Jools Holland (2019) and at Glastonbury (2021). Toni has also provided backing vocals for some of pop's finest; including Rita Ora, Jess Glynne, Dave and Bastille

In 2020, HighRise launched NewGens, a unique training programme that provides a safe, creative space for young, multi-disciplinary artists aged 16-25, facing access issues into theatre and the arts. NewGens music and theatre alumni can be seen working and studying at BBC, New Diorama Theatre, RADA, Guildhall, Royal Welsh and on Radio, TV and Film.

The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award (OSBTTA) supports the development of emerging practitioners engaged in bold, challenging and innovative performance. Since 2007, the Barbican and the OSBTTA have worked together annually to stage a new production, based on a prize-winning proposal, for The Pit or a site-specific location. Previous winners include IN BED WITH MY BROTHER, Alan Fielden with JAMS, Mars.tarrab, Dickie Beau, and You Me Bum Bum Train.

Ciaran Thapar’s Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City is published by Penguin. It’s a gripping, urgent, sympathetic and often painful portrait of a society fracturing along lines of race, class and postcode. The book is available to purchase in the Barbican Shop.

Listings information

The UK Drill Project
HighRise Entertainment
The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award 2022
Created and Directed by Dominic Garfield
Executive Producer for HighRise Libby Liburd
Assistant Company Producer Lesley Rietta Cobbina
Executive Music Director Kwame “KZ” Kwei-Armah Jnr
Production Manager for HighRise Cai Taylor
Executive Research Consultant Ciaran Thapar
Music by Skanda Sabbagh
Assistant Director Ellis
Vocal Coach Toni “Reese” Robinson
Movement Director Yami Löfvenberg
Fight Director Adrian Derrick-Palmer
Video Design by Dan Light
Lighting Design by Simisola Majekodunmi
Exhibition Curator Sampira Al-Fihri
Stage Manager Daisy Francis-Bryden
Marketing Consultant for HighRise Holly Adomah Thompson
Strategic Producer Support Tracy Gentles
Artistic Associates Fahad Shaft, Gerel Falconer, Oliver Tunstall
Cast Fahad Shaft, Gerel Falconer, Oliver Tunstall, Che Gordon and Lauryn Louise
Artistic Associate and Collaborator Westerfield Oreluwa Ibikunle Shoderu
Additional Music and Research Collaborator Ishmatic Beats
Research Collaborators Jhemar Jonas, Demetri Addison, Henry Onilude, and Michael Mbozo
Thu 3–Sat 12 Nov 2022 (10 performances)
The Pit
7.45pm; no performances on Sun 6 Nov 2022
1 hour 30 mins/no interval
Age limit: 14+ (contains some upsetting themes of an adult nature)
£18 plus booking fee; £5 Young Barbican tickets available
Press performance: Fri 4 Nov 2022, 7.45pm
BSL-interpreted performance followed by BSL-interpreted post-show talk (free to same-day ticket holders): Tue 8 Nov 2022, 7.45pm
Relaxed performance: Wed 9 Nov 2022, 7.45pm
Schools’ performance: Thu 10 Nov 2022, 2pm (followed by post-show talk)
Panel discussion led by Ciaran Thapar: Wed 16 Nov 2022, 7pm, Frobisher Auditorium, £5

Presented and co-produced by the Barbican