Water Seeds Not Stones

I don’t normally review work in development, but Elmi Ali’s Water Seeds Not Stones at Contact as part of Flying Solo 2017 is a show that I want to discuss.  Inspired by the traders on Manchester’s Market Street who are forever on the move and who will go to any lengths to sell you their wares, Elmi Ali creates the ‘post-modern’ persona of Mamamawodi from the Edge.  Entering onto the stage in what we would regard as traditional African costume, pushing a hand built cart filled with books and other paraphernalia, he weaves stories that at first seem flippant and just banter, but build into fascinating tales playing with complex ideas of movement, legitimacy and home.

In the post-show discussion he talks of how he builds up the stories, starting with the rhythm of the words, finding word play both within and between languages; a greeting in Somali is also the word for ladder.  It’s as if he is picking ideas out of thin air and weaving them together.  He describes how he ‘arrives at complex abstract thought without using the normal channels’.  So this is not just storytelling, it is a complex framework of words and ideas that leave you not only with a verbal message but a feeling of the ideas he is trying to create.  There are elements of performance art.

At the root of this performance is a pure joy in what language is able to do.  An understanding that the right words presented in an engaging way can communicate the most complex ideas.  That the right words do not need to spell out the message, but can plant seeds in the minds of the audience.  Even the books on his cart are curated so that the stories within run in parallel with his words on stage.  There is so much behind this performance that each person will take a slightly different experience away.

As with many of the best shows I find myself smiling all the way through, but what I remember are the important messages.  As Elmi Ali says, ‘it doesn’t have to be difficult, theatre should be fun’.

Contact, Manchester, 3-4 November 2017 as part of Flying Solo.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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