REVIEW: Licensed to Ill, Southwark Playhouse

This energetic and funny show about the Beastie Boys is best appreciated by those who are huge fans of their music. 

Licenced to Ill
Adam El Hagar, Daniel Foxsmith, Simon Maeder in Licensed to Ill. (c) Helen Maybanks. 

There is certainly no doubting the boundless energy and enthusiasm on display in this affectionate look at the career of the Beastie Boys and the rise of hip hop, bouncing from their early beginnings and knock backs to becoming one of the best known groups of the genre.

It is very much a show that is consistently in your face, filled with a sense of rebellion and celebration of trying to be different – despite the fact that many record companies wanted them to conform to a certain style that was important to make lots of money. But what comes through is the band’s stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise their sound, losing control over their music.

Everything is big and loud from Rosie Murray’s graffiti covering Jemima Robinson’s straight forward set to the energetic choreography and at times it can be a little bit overwhelming to appreciate properly.

Licensed to Ill relies a lot on the audience to bounce off, bringing them on stage to take part in a music video or to play as part of the band that delights those watching and makes us feel as much part of the action as it is possible to be. It is at these moments when the show is at its strongest.

In terms of substance, it feels as though there isn’t much going on and time moves extremely quickly from when they were discovered to them becoming a big success. There doesn’t feel as though there is enough character interaction between the cast for the audience to really get emotionally engaged or get to know the characters.

Yet, for those who are massive Beastie Boys fans there is plenty to delight in terms of the music that provides perfect nostalgia, which seems bittersweet after the death of Adam Yauch in 2012 and briefly alluded to at the end of the show.

In terms of entertainment there is certainly plenty to delight in, but in terms of substance it feels slightly empty which is disappointing. Plenty of swagger – but little substance to back it up.

Licensed to Ill will play at the Southwark Playhouse until the 24th December. For more information and to book tickets visit:

Rating: ❤❤❤

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