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Surprise Theatre, Royal Court

Inua Ellams
Directed by Thierry Lawson


Pros: This is a wonderful piece of theatre from an incredibly talented writer/performer. Not knowing what you are seeing until the curtain goes up ensures you appreciate it without preconceptions.

Cons: None really, although the set is a bare box and more could be done with the lighting to evoke the change in locations from Nigeria to London.

Our Verdict: I love Inua Ellams – this is a fabulous piece of poetic writing and he performs it with energy and grace. You won’t be able to see this performance in this season, but keep a look out for this wonderful writer/performer.
I now understand the term “poetry in motion” – watching Inua Ellams perform his own autobiographical play

Courtesy of the Royal Court

was simply beautiful to listen to and see. Ellams writes with such delicate artistry and poetic melody interspersed with an abundance of humour and wonderful observations, I could listen to his work for hours. I plan to purchase the text as I really want to hear those words again, such sumptuous yet relatable, relevant prose, there are so many phrases I want to capture like butterflies and hold onto. Ellams manages to paint an evocative portrait of his childhood in Nigeria and Dublin through to his current life in London with words alone, intertwining his family background into the story like a finely woven cloth. His writing has an alluring quality, drawing the audience in, bewitching and elegant yet completely connective. It is no wonder he has won recognition for his work.

Ellams’ performance is a BAC Scratch Commission with Apples and Snakes and a London Word Festival Commission funded by Arts Council England. The show is exemplary; he really captures the nuances of the different characters he introduces through voice and mannerisms so well that he does not need a supporting cast. His grandfather, his father, his friends, his interpretation of himself as a small boy in Nigeria, himself as a teenager at high school in London – all of these personalities are brought to life with animated actions and expressions. His movement and mannerisms are evocative and graceful. It is a heady combination of verse and almost dance-like choreography – Ellams ebbs and flows around the stage, moving with grace and ease through invisible scenery clearly defined in the mind’s eye. It is really mesmerising to watch and I have never seen such a connection between words and physical movement, between the visible and the imagined. I love this piece and I would see it again tomorrow if I could. It’s a bit like a song you want to listen to over and over again.

I have to wonder if this impact is heightened by the ‘surprise theatre’ element of the evening. As the audience sits in a conventional seating plan theatre, red curtains drawn across the stage, we don’t know what we are about to see. I have no idea about the subject, the format, themes, not even a title to work with. I hadn’t read a review or even an online synopsis of the production. When the curtain rolls back, my mind is completely open. I have no preconceived expectations so the entire performance reveals itself for what it is. I think there is an enormous benefit for the audience of this format as my response to this play was entirely genuine and my own. The Royal Court has taken some risks with their Open Court format for the summer season but for the trusting theatre-goer there is a fantastic payback in the ‘Surprise theatre’ticket. It would be hard to gain such a personal response to any performance in any other way. Obviously, I can’t comment on the rest of the surprise productions as they will be different every week, but I can highly recommend trying for returns just for the surprise experience. Oh, and look out for Inua Ellams and his magical poetic productions!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Surprise Theatre is part of the Royal Court’s Open Court summer season –various productions until 20th July 2013 Box office: 020 7565 5000.

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