It’s hard not be drawn to Elmi Ali’s development piece, Water Seeds Not Stones, which is currently being shown as part of the 2017 Flying Solo Festival at Contact Theatre. It promises a combination of traditional storytelling and performance art, told through the character of Mamamawodi from the Edge.
Now in it’s seventh year, Contact Theatre’s annual Flying Solo Festival celebrates radical solo performances, comprising of artists from the UK and further afield, with the subjects matter this year ranging from gender politics to race and featuring performances from the likes of Afreena Islam, Demi Nandhra as well as international acts like American comedian Desiree Burch and Dutch spoken word artist Sheyda Darab. And of course let’s not forget Elmi Ali.
His one man show epitomises everything that Flying Solo stands for. Contact Theatre has become renowned for its work in developing artists and their works, supporting them, nurturing them, like a metaphorical Mr Miyagi mentoring a young Daniel LaRusso.
In Elmi Ali we have such an individual. His show features a character that takes inspiration from the traders on Manchester’s Market Street, dressed in traditional African garb and pushing a cart, it’s easy not to warm to Ali’s affable street urchin. He is after all according to Ali a hawker, a bookworm, a street peddler, a man of vision, a flaneur, a traveler, a fabulist, a storyteller, an activist and a gardener librarian. So what is there not to like.
For a development piece there is naturally elements which do not quite work. However, it would be churlish of me to try to critique these because it would miss the point. Flying Solo – and Contact Theatre in particular – are trying to create an environment where pieces such as this, whilst rough around the edges, still find their way into the domain.
Therefore, let us take that spirit and celebrate everything that was great about Elmi Ali’s performance. It helps if you can instantly build a rapport with the audience, especially in a one man show. Suffice to say Ali achieves this almost immediately. Space 2 of Contact Theatre can be a desolate place at times, but Ali’s personality and stage presence is easily able to fill the chiasmatic void.
The various monologues are charming and captivating. Some work better than others, some have the audience completely enthralled and singing in the aisles, some others invariably fall a little flat. There is also some nice use of sounds within the production, and you can see the show in its embryonic form as it tries to combine elements of visuals, sounds and the sheer enigmaticness of acting on stage.
It will be interesting to see how Ali continues to develop this show and whether the environment he has created along with Contact Theatre can make this blossoming show flower and flourish.
Verdict: Elmi Ali’s one man show is enigmatic and enthralling as he weaves a number of tales through the post modern character of Mamamawodi from the Edge. He’ll have you singing and dancing in the aisles. Literally.