PIAF: Inua Ellams' An Evening With an Immigrant Review
If a guy telling his life story with some spoken word poetry thrown in for an hour and a half sounds like a hard sell, you haven’t reckoned with Inua Ellams. The acclaimed poet, playwright and performer has lived a life few could imagine, and he brings it to life for his audience with a keen knack for storytelling. Ellams’ story is as vital as his work, and An Evening With an Immigrant marries the two for a highly relevant, eye-opening show.
Ellams’ story sounds harrowing on paper. Forced to leave Nigeria for the United Kingdom and Ireland due to persecution, Ellams and his family have faced all adversity in all forms. And yet, he managed to find beauty in his situation, bringing it out with flowing poems built on rhythm and cadence. While his story has features shared by any number immigrants, there are peculiarities- I don’t think anyone else can claim to have had tea at Buckingham Palace on the merits of their art whilst their family faced a legal fight to stay in their adoptive country. His poetry is also of the highest quality- I was going to purchase one of his collections, but sadly, only cash was accepted. His carefully constructed pieces flaunt his literary genius; they're complex, but remain comprehendible to the layperson.
Normally, I’d label anyone who would make an entire show about themselves as “self-obsessed”, but Ellams speaks with such humility and charm that any such words are struck from my vocabulary. He's just so down to earth that it never felt like a show, but an intimate conversation with a good friend. This was precisely what made his message shine.
Plays like this are vital, as they put a face and story to the oft-dehumanising facts and figures spouted by the media and politicians. When Ellams challenged Australia’s own immigration policies, the theatre erupted in applause near the end of the evening (with maybe one or two red faces). It made me feel simultaneously angry, motivated and grateful to hear the words of such a unique figure. In short, this was an evening like no other.