Review: Tones: A Hip-Hop Opera

A skilful combination of the dramatic tension found in opera and the frenetic flow of rap

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Tones: A Hip-Hop Opera
Photo by Jonny Kelly
Published 10 Aug 2023

Hip-hop as a genre traverses numerous artforms, forever influencing, remixing and amplifying varying creative outputs. Despite this, it still doesn’t demand the same level of respect that is afforded to mediums such as opera, often placed in direct opposition via distinctions of high and low culture. The Fringe and similar arts festivals have never been a particular hotbed for hip-hop but in more recent years, the addition of rap in amongst the music, dance and theatre programmes highlights a real change in perceptions towards the genre as art. 

Tones: A Hip-Hop Opera, produced by Wound Up Theatre and directed by Jonny Kelly, is an excellent example of a production that fits seamlessly into the Fringe without compromising or holding back on its foundations in hip-hop culture. On stage, actor and writer Gerel Falconer dons a simple black hoodie and a mask that evokes the Phantom of the Opera, hip-hop legend MF Doom and British trapwave rapper M Huncho all at once – an effect that once again brings to mind this convergence between high and low culture. 

We follow Jerome (aka The Professor) through childhood and adulthood, as he is confronted with issues relating to class and identity, feeling estranged due to his Blackness but then also having his Blackness called into question by his peers. At times, the fluidity of Falconer’s impressive lyricism means the story gets a little lost, and with no visuals and only his words to focus on, the narrative can be hard to connect with. Still, the sheer skill required to combine the dramatic tension found in opera and the frenetic flow of rap makes Tones a truly impressive feat of both storytelling and gig theatre.