Pros: Funny, moving, lively and full of outstanding poetry.
Cons: There’s not enough time to hear all that has to be said.
This show is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It’s not traditional theatre, not at all, but over the evening it becomes clear that just as Inua Ellams is hard to put into a box and define, his show is similar. This is a one-man show with a microphone, a stool and a poem stand. Inua Ellams is a man (a dude) who spends the evening telling his life story, the journey of a boy from Nigeria to a man in England, whilst pleasant music sets a subtle backing track. He tells of his family being run out of Nigeria and moving from London to Dublin, and back to London again, as they deal with being exiled from the places that they settle in, and with the difficult task to have to fit in with a new culture in a strange new world. To illustrate this journey, Ellams shares anecdotes (often hysterically funny) and poems about his experiences. The stories are wonderful and the man is so enjoyable when he’s simply talking, but it’s as a poet when he really shines.
His words are incredible; they paint far clearer visions than any set ever could. His delivery is outstanding too: perfectly eloquent, always on the right beat and he transcends the walls of the theatre once he gets into full swing. He reminds me of a bird with wings outstretched whilst he is reciting the poems . Maybe that’s because he gestures with his arms out, but I like the thought it puts in my head.
The poems are just stunning, and worth the admission price alone. One about a flaming basketball, written after a heartbreaking experience, moved my companion and myself to tears. But it’s important to point out here that this show doesn’t focus on the negative things that happened to Ellams; rather, it focuses on the positives that have come from these negative experiences and that’s what makes the show so absolutely charming. He has the right to be angry, frustrated and disappointed with some of the cards he’s been dealt in life, but he isn’t. He’s optimistic, accepting, and uses his negative experiences to learn from and become a greater person. And he passes those lessons on to those who are willing to listen to him. Ellams has an incredible way of seeing the world and a very self-aware way of analyzing what he sees. He is someone who makes the best of what happens to him, learns from it and then these moments to create beautiful pieces of art – his poems.
Where the performance could be improved is with regards to timing. The show was supposed to be an hour, but ended up being more like an hour and thirty minutes – and we barely covered his twenties. This man’s story is not something that can be condensed into an hour; he simply needs more time. We were halfway through his childhood when the set time runs out, with so many stories left to tell. Ellams kindly and somewhat sheepishly asked the audience if we minded staying on. Everyone enthusiastically agreed, as we were going nowhere while this storyteller still had tales to weave and share. Yet, even with him fast-forwarding and cutting out tales and poems, we still didn’t get to hear the full breadth of his life. And that’s a shame, as he has so much to say which is genuinely worth hearing.
It’s a great show and Ellams is so likeable whilst holding court. His zest for life is contagious: even given his earlier hardships, he still sits in front of you smiling and laughing and spreading beauty in the form of his poems. There is so much in this performance to absolutely love. There just needs to be more time in which to love it all.
Author: Inua Ellams
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.