Wisebowm: The Struggle is Real is a tale of love, rhyme, and gluten. Performed by YouTuber and character comedian Steve Whiteley (known as Offkey Steve), this is a heartfelt and highly entertaining piece of modern storytelling, a hip hop love story of the Instagram age.
Wisebowm – self-titled global urban poet superstar, working class guy and general top lad – has found love. She’s called Samantha, she’s kind-of upmarket, and she’s way out of his league. Perhaps she’s the wake-up call he needs to sort his life out and win her heart. And thus, we embark on Wisebowm’s journey of self-discovery, progressing through pilates, yoga, and Evian, and told in that age-old medium: urban poetry and street rhymes.
Whiteley simultaneously pokes fun at two parallel slabs of cross-class millennials: the gym-going, lager-swilling lads, and the Instagramming, yoga-matting neo-hippies. His depiction of Wisebowm trying to bridge the two for love is brilliant, and shines a bright comic light on the ridiculousness of each from a fresh angle.
The story is mostly told with a lilting, rhythmic rhyming style, which is highly effective and a little bit hypnotic (if sometimes dubious on the rhyme front – I can’t tell if this is a projection of Wisebowm and his misplaced sense of grandeur). The performance is slick and well-delivered, and the Wisebowm character turns out to be surprisingly likeable, while being in just the right zone between ridiculous and relatable to be really quite funny to watch. The premise is simple, but Whiteley has done a great job of keeping the narrative engaging and flowing, crafting a sweet, lovably pathetic, class-divide sort-of love monologue which dances through all the most ludicrous parts of the modern world.
Although The Struggle is Real is billed as an urban poetry musical, there’s not actually a great deal of music, discounting unaccompanied rhymes. There are a couple of solid tunes towards the end, but most of the music comes in the form of short, rather bizarre snippets, and it’s rather sparsely placed. What’s there is great, but there’s definitely room here for the melodic heart of the show to be expanded.
Steve Whiteley’s largely hit the nail on the head with Wisebowm, a genuine character, and a great frame (or excuse?) for his lyrical performances. Moving the character from his shorter snippety roots into a new, longer format could have gone either way, but I think he’s pulled it off in style: if anything there’s room here to go bigger. This is a warm, funny and relevant urban yarn, with a big, baseball-cap-wearing, rhyme-spitting heart.