Skip Rap is learning-disabled artist, performer, stand up comedian and rapper Alan ‘Cool’ Clay’s debut solo show. It fuses hip-hop, theatre, digital imagery and junk, ruminating on what it’s like to be treated like trash. Vicky Hiles and Gill Crawshaw went to see Skip Rap at Mind the Gap Studios in Bradford, where it played 2-3 February, before embarking on a tour.
Alan ‘Cool’ Clay is an associate artist with Mind the Gap, the UK’s leading learning-disability theatre company, but Skip Rap is Alan’s first independently produced show. We were both excited about seeing it, even though we didn’t know what to expect from this “gig-theatre”; a term we hadn’t come across before.
MTG Studios is in a huge old mill, and on a wet February night it looked a bit scary. But what was creepy outside turned out to be quirky inside. There were funky decorations and lots of friendly faces. More old buildings like this should be converted and used as arts centres for disabled people.
This particular venue has a real buzz, it’s a bit like a TV studio. The stage set made imaginative use of wheelie bins, giving it a street-wise feel, which fits well with the performance. It also flags up one of the themes of the show – how learning-disabled people are often treated like rubbish and cast aside.
Alan ‘Cool’ Clay is the star of the show. He’s the “lyrical legend from Leeds”, backed by MC and DJ Testament. This is Alan’s personal story and some of it is difficult and upsetting, but he doesn’t shy away from this.
Alan’s an Eminem fan and this influence comes across strongly. That’s not a bad thing: we like Eminem too. This style of hip hop is a really effective way of telling your life story. What works for Detroit also translates for Seacroft, Leeds. Alan takes us back to his childhood and school. He raps about his parents, particularly his beloved mum who lives in a care home towards the end of her life.
Even though Alan is bullied and has to deal with horrible teachers, this part of the show is the funniest. Young Alan is represented by a kitchen strainer on a spring. It sounds daft, but it works! We laugh along with him, jumping in a ball pool and that time he “stole some Ladybird books from the library – even though I can’t read!”
The story moves on, covering family life and relationships. They don’t always end well, though.
The politics within the show are arguably its most important aspect. Alan has had his benefits cut. He’s worried that he’ll lose his home, the first place he’s lived independently. “The rich get rich and the poor get poorer” was one of many forceful, angry raps.
Alan doesn’t just criticise the current government, though. Looking back over some of the residents of 10 Downing Street, he shows that few of them have treated disabled people well; from Churchill, who “wanted to inject disabled people”, to Blair and Cameron. It’s good that Alan highlights these important parts of history. And he also has a go at Trump, which draws a cheer from everyone!
This was a fantastic show, with strong performances from both Alan and Testament. Skip Rap shows the truth about the lives of learning-disabled people. And it shows how angry they are at politicians and at how they are treated by wider society.
Visit photographer Tom Woollard’s blog about the Skip Rap shoot: Hip Hop in a Bradford Junk Yard
Correction notice: This article previously stated that Skip Rap was produced by Mind the Gap, when it is in fact independently produced.