Do The Right Thing – Redhead Kingpin & the FBI
…brothers are stealing & dealing & big wheeling, and to a younger mind that stuff is appealing – so
what do they do? they gather up a crew, go out & steal or rob instead of gettin’ a job…
Summer of ’89 I was living in Archway Road N6 and directing a summer school at the National Youth Theatre in Holloway – a 3 week workshop with a mixed gang of wannabe hopefuls from all over the UK. We had a presentation to make at the end of the fun. So we started to build a show – based on an eco-disaster idea I’d had called Zone. We met each morning in Parliament Hill School gym and did warm-ups, games and hot-seating. They were a talented gang – one of them (Frank) became a writer, another (Kerry) became Artistic Director of the Theatre Royal Stratford East and another (David) became David Walliams. My assistant director was David Steinberg from Tel Aviv, who is still a close friend (I travelled to see him during the 2nd intifada). The local estate kids used to “invade” the school every day and run amok, the caretaker did nothing of course – we were the ‘incomers’. I challenged them one morning with the phrase “off you go”, which the leading kid echoed back incredulously “off you go?”, then off he went. But that lunch hour my leading actor Rob was slashed with a knife outside the sandwich shop on Highgate Road and was rushed to hospital with a cut cheek. Disaster. Police were called, nothing happened, we finished the last few days of the workshop in Holloway Road at basecamp. In the final show I used two pieces of music – one was a choreographed dance routine to a hip hop song which had stormed my ears that summer. I brought in two hip-hop choreographers whose names escape me now, they used to do all the videos from that era – the Cookie Crew, London Possee, Gee St Records kinda thing, and they took this disparate group through their B-Boy paces. Good dancers stood at the front, less good ones at the back, but NO ONE was exempted, despite protestations. Walliams in particular, despite doing an impeccable and hilarious Kenneth Williams impersonation on a regular basis, really wasn’t a natural dancer, but I never treated him any different to the rest of them despite evidence to the contrary, and to his credit he gamely danced on. It really was the highlight of the “show” when we presented it to parents and the NYT. It’s got great lyrics and a real new-jack swing bounce to it. Despite the title (which you cannot copyright thank god) the song has nothing to with the Spike Lee film of the same name which also came out in 1989, and was also in the form of a cautionary tale of hard-won wisdom.
Many years later Jenny was working with Sharon Osbourne in The Vagina Monologues and we were invited to the Osbournes Christmas Party just behind Harrods. Elton was there, I ignored him out of nerves (regret) and David Walliams, now star of hit show Little Britain was also there. He took my elbow : “Ralph I need to thank you for the National Youth Theatre workshop – you didn’t treat me differently to the others, and I had such a good time I went back the following summer, and met Matt Lucas.” That was nice. David also devoted part of a chapter in his autobiography to the experience which he then sent to me, and we’re now back in touch. Life is long.
Later in 1989 I went to a live hip hop concert in London with KRS-One headlining, EPMD (?) and Redhead Kingpin performing this song. It’s still a classic.