By Ellen Pascoe
To name a production ‘An Evening with an Immigrant,’ is to spark a conversation from the outset. We most commonly hear this word in a negative context, from a political figure whose orange face or grey-haired bob we have become all too familiar with. But the characters we seem to know the least about are those who are being spoken of; without a name but with an umbrella term.
I sat in the auditorium facing a minimalist set-up not dissimilar from that which you would expect to see in a comedy club, with jazz music to match as well as a single suitcase at the back of the stage. The music grew louder and down through the crowd came Inua Ellams, interacting with the audience and making us laugh until he reached the stage and took a seat. The performance which proceeded this wasn’t a piece of theatre as much as it was a cross-between a stand-up show and a poetry reading – ‘an evening’ spent in conversation with a friend rather than witnessing a one man show.
Inua gave us a running narrative of his life in Nigeria: from bullies, to dressing up as a superhero, to the terror which his family faced and which forced them to leave, to England where Inua first experienced racism and made a friend for life, to bullies and terror in Ireland before again being forced to leave the place where friends and lovers had been found until eventually returning to England. Interwoven with his story, Inua shared with us his poetry. Sadly, unlike Inua, I do not possess the talent to be able to describe to you how beautiful I found this poetry so I have decided not to bother and instead enclose a link to Inua’s website where you can learn more about Inua as well as listen to him reciting his poetry (the ideal way to receive his poetry I think.)
Amongst all else, this was an evening of generosity. I felt, and still feel, extremely honoured and grateful to Inua for sharing his story with a room full of strangers as through his willingness to share, Inua educated myself (whether this was or was not his desired intention) regarding the changes that we NEED to make in this country. This was story-telling in its purest form and, as appears to be a forming trend, I attempted to leave the theatre with text in-hand.
After queuing for a signed copy of one of Inua’s poetry anthologies and being told that, unsurprisingly, they had sold out, I added it to my Christmas list and carried on queuing to meet Inua regardless. I’ve never been a ‘fan’ of anyone in particular and in my head if I ever met a major figure I’d act cool and collected… but in meeting Inua I discovered that this is far from the truth. When we reached the front of the queue one of the friends I was with told Inua how much we enjoyed the show and how we couldn’t wait to get our hands on his poetry whilst my other friend and I stood there smiling and nodding clutching the flyers for the performance. Inua was kind enough to sign our flyers and thank us for coming whilst I stood, unsuccessfully, trying to think up something profound to say about the evening.
Inua Ellams has performed across the world from The Royal Opera House in London to venues in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, New Zealand and America among others. He has published anthologies of his poetry and produced sell-out plays. Upon invitation he has attended Buckingham Palace with the likes of Kevin Spacey. Despite these countless accomplishments however, Inua still has to pay out to apply to stay in the country every few years with no certainty that his applications will be approved.
Inua Ellams is an immigrant to Britain and I hope you are as thankful to have him here as I am.