Initially participating in Battersea Arts Centre’s youth theatre workshops in 2000, and later becoming a workshop facilitator in 2007 and founding the BAC Beatbox Academy, Conrad Murray is living proof that investment in time and resources can pay dividends, leading to tapping into one’s true potential and creative fulfilment. Directed by Ria Parry and Laura Keefe, Murray’s latest show Denmarked – an extraordinary, unflinching autobiographical account of his life – meshes his own musical compositions with anecdotes about growing up between three council estates, as well as how Hamlet’s predicament resonated with him.
Murray freely delves into everything – his experiences as a mixed race child and the stigma surrounding his father’s cultural heritage and behaviour. The description of what Murray’s father subjected his mother to is harrowing to hear, but it does give an insight into his home environment and his self-perception in relation to this.
Social workers sometimes get a raw deal, but in Murray’s life they have been a positive influence and picked up on the emotional and practical things that Murray needed. In fact most of the women mentioned in his show have been made a lasting impact on him, one way or another. Emotionally astute, Murray’s self-awareness extends to his relationship with his father (who he hasn’t seen in 18 years) and his own underlying worry that like the men in each generation of his family, he will disappear – leaving his own children ‘fatherless’ too.
The ‘inevitability’ of imprisonment haunts Murray’s dreams and psyche, and finds Hamlet’s early speech about the mind’s perception of the world as a prison particularly relevant. In relations to himself growing up, there were two ‘prisons’ that exist side-by-side. One – the way the world works and the external circumstances one can’t run away from. The other is one’s own mind, sometimes not recognising opportunities for ‘freedom’ when they become available.
With regards to his musical compositions in the show that are performed live on stage – a hybrid of R’N’B, hip hop and electronica – they encapsulate the energy of living in a major city, being at the centre of things and yet a thing apart. His vocals, certainly elevates the compositions, showing elements of maturity in his musicianship.
As a show, as a piece of ‘theatre’, Denmarked is refreshing in the way storytelling and music in an autobiographical context fit together. While he’s always demonstrated an aptitude for music, Murray’s the first to admit about his initial doubts about fitting in on the road to being a drama teacher. Many students feel the same way when they go into further/higher education/’proper’ job and would readily identify themselves with this dichotomy.
In today’s endless debates about the future and relevance of ‘theatre/the Arts’ and diversity, here is a show that’s created by a theatre-maker from south London and continues to interact with the local communities as a drama teacher. I’m not one for hyperbole, but I think it’s great that a ‘local boy’ is now in a position to use his creative abilities to the fullest AND still able to reach out to those in the community. Proof that being creative isn’t a privilege, it’s for everyone.
If there were thousands more like Murray who managed to ‘breakthrough’ from a working class background to the mainstream Arts, the landscape would be very different to what it is today. Thank goodness then that venues such as the Battersea Arts Centre continue to facilitate and nuture the theatre-makers of tomorrow.
© Michael Davis 2017
Denmarked runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 11th March 2017.