Writer: Zodwa Nyoni
Director: James Brining
Reviewer: Rich Jevons
At first, upon entering the auditorium, it could be easy to feel disappointed by the five microphones arranged neatly in a line. Not so, the stage is set for five poets, ready for their turn under the spotlight in the poetry slam.
As the show progresses it becomes much more of a total theatrical experience, the set evolving with the narrative, bright and thoroughly exciting. The production is brought crashing into the modern era with some extremely innovative projections from live mobile phone recordings. The young cast each excels in their roles and have obviously benefitted from the coaching of Andy Brooks, also known as Testament, the world-renowned rapper and beatboxer.
The narrative revolves around a poetry group, five friends who are selected to go to New York to compete in the world’s most prestigious poetry slam competition. However, realising this dream is problematic, even though they ooze the passion and talent. But Ode to Leeds is more than just a literary event; it is a coming-of-age play with political undertones about the more deprived areas not normally covered in the theatre. The production focuses on the problems and issues faced by the five characters, Queenie, Theo, Devika, Mack and Darcy.
Winner of the Channel 4 Playwright Scheme, writer Zodwa Nyoni (Nine Lives, Boi Boi is Dead) has taken inspiration from her personal experience at being part of a poetry group and has created a script to die for, while James Brining’s direction (Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) is incisive and innovative, as is the excellent, and clever design. As well as some very humorous moments there are also some touching and fairly dark edges to the play.
The performances may appear somewhat naïve, but this sense of naivety works in the production’s favour, adding to the freshness and vitality of their work. The audience is able to clearly identify with their every thought and action, the result of which is to add to the impact and power of the performance. Ode to Leeds is a brilliant and occasionally heartbreaking portrait of our city; a fantastically fitting finale to the West Yorkshire Playhouse season. This is an absolute must see for a wide and diverse audience.
Runs until 1 July 2017 | Image: Anthony Robling