Chris Wilkinson shares his thoughts on Inua Ellams' 'An Evening with an Immigrant' and why it is such an important show in our time.
Setting himself down on a stool in the stripped, grey rooms of the Alphabetti theatre, Inua Ellams reads aloud a poem. The poem is called ‘I come from a long line of troublemakers’, and tells of a Nigerian Grandfather who ran so fast from a furious mob that the dirt ‘couldn’t catch his footsteps’. The story of the parents is then told, one a Christian, one a Muslim, who by simply being together invited the intense disapproval of an entire community. You may be surprised to find that by this time, the crowd this poet has been attending to are beside themselves with laughter.
He speaks with vivid imagery of the joys of growing up in Nigeria but of the brutal dislocations of moving to the British Isles.
Inua Ellams has been writing for a while now, and his prominence has been recognised by numerous awards, by sold-out ticket sales, and by a visit to Buckingham Palace. But this ‘evening’ I can say is something particularly special to our time.
‘An evening with an Immigrant’ is a performance predicated upon the emotive power of memory, and because of this can switch almost instantly between the comic and the whimsical to the devastating and the unsettling. He speaks with vivid imagery of the joys of growing up in Nigeria but of the brutal dislocations of moving to the British Isles, and this fine balancing act subtly contributes to his final, overtly political message: The way immigrants are portrayed in this country is immoral. Ellams shows us that some people did not quite travel to this country but were transplanted here, for, as he points out using the words of a fellow poet, ‘for someone to leave home, home must be the jaws of a shark’.
Ellams is a wonder, and his poetry is, as he says in one dedication, for those ‘capsules of walking water – sculpted by the wind’.