String v SPITTA might sound like a court case but is, instead, something far more serious: a battle between two children’s entertainers for supremacy of the London scene. Returning from a Covid-abbreviated run last December, Ed MacArthur and Kiell Smith-Bynoe’s comedy rap and (nursery) rhymes is back at the Soho Theatre.
The two rivals couldn’t be more different. MacArthur’s Silvester String is from the right side of the tracks, born with a silver ladle in his mouth and with more connections than a Tube map. Spitta (as we learn from the opening number) left home as a teenager and dragged himself up from the streets into the competitive world of balloon animals, magic tricks and pre-teen birthday parties.
The show lightly mines the socioeconomic differences between the pair through music and some pointed zingers alongside what passes for a plot: the East End MC is snapping up all the capital’s gigs so String sneaks his way into Spitta’s latest slot entertaining the daughter of a Russian oligarch. The two eventually team up, building on their respective skills and backgrounds with the Sloane Ranger eyeing a brighter future and the MC the oligarch’s wife.
MacArthur and Kiell Smith-Bynoe conceived the show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016; since then, the former has worked in musical comedy while the latter has gone on to co-star in BBC TV hit Ghosts (he has just finished filming the fourth season). To be fair, Spitta isn’t a huge stretch for Smith-Bynoe considering that, as well as being a teenage rapper who released novelty grime song “Junior Spesh” under the name MC Klayze Flaymz, he was also a children’s entertainer (as was MacArthur).
The script has been updated since last year’s shows with contemporary references to sanctions and SWIFT, but it is still patchy with occasional holes you could drive a Chelsea tractor through. The audience interaction elements are fun but could be sharper. It didn’t help having a rowdy crowd in on the opening night, but the whole thing currently feels not much more than a series of skits along a theme.
There are some cracking one-liners (“the last time one of my family improvised, it caused a recession”) and brilliant banter, but it’s the hilarious songs that bring the laughs to the yard. Rehashed standards like “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and original number “Bow down” are the highlights in a show which often hits a spot sweeter than a kilo of Haribo.
String v SPITTA continues at Soho Theatre until 16 April
Image: James Deacon