Where Ye From combines spoken word poetry, song and dance to create a contemporary medium of theatre that just isn’t seen regularly in London. This compilation of pieces interrogates the intriguing question “Where are you from?” Three individuals address this question in their own way, the answer being Jamaica, Ireland, Yorkshire, West Africa and London. Each of them gives an enlightening flavour of their different cultures.
The show starts with ‘Sweet Memories’ by Anthony Ekundayo Lennon, a charismatically written anecdote of his childhood as a mixed-heritage boy. This is followed by two dance pieces, the first being ‘Windows of Displacement’ performed by Akeim Toussaint Buck, the second by Keira Martin which is aptly named ‘Here Comes Trouble’. To complete the evening there is a panel discussion with all of the performers and musicians. Within these four elements, the performers have created a safe hub of self-expression and unjudgemental welcoming support, which is very much shared with the friendly atmosphere from the audience.
Lennon’s piece is confidently charming. He meets his audience in the foyer after a frenzy of live music to welcome us into the theatre. From the get-go we are encouraged to speak out and interact with the experience, a key characteristic of spoken word poetry that stays throughout evening. His short dialogue describes his childhood game of eating sweets in the airing cupboard with his brother, a playful anecdote that underpins the prejudice he dealt with at this age. Lennon is well spoken and has a presence on stage that is captivating.
Buck’s piece is a triple performance as he comes on singing a capella and hypnotically dancing. He speaks, sings, dances about his Jamaican heritage and confusion at getting British citizenship. Buck is a strong dancer who fills the stage with presence and makes the audience feel quite at ease as to whether they are going to be entertained or not. The dance is a fascinating story that gets the whole audience singing along in Jamaican with him.
Martin then contrasts this earthy Jamaican culture with pristine Irish dancing. Her faultless technique is magnetic to watch as her lightning-speed feet tap perfectly in time. This then develops into her own background of Jamaican, Irish and Yorkshire heritage. She goes through all three in their own appropriate style questioning which one she really belongs to in a slower paced piece that confusingly jumps from desperate, terrifying emotions of sadness to fake painted on smiles. Martin holds the stage well and is an accomplished dancer.
The whole show feels like a loving call for people to be more welcoming and supportive of diversity, an exciting atmosphere to be in. It is intricately thought out and deeply heartfelt with personal experience to back it up. However, they all leave me wanting more from the experience and I don’t feel as invigorated as I had hoped. Perhaps this is due to the nature of the cultures they speak of which I don’t automatically have a connection to. Therefore, as much as I can understand and love their stories, I don’t feel enthralled to shout out and exclaim like some members of the audience. I yearn for the selections to go deeper and really question why humanity is so judgemental.
Overall, Where Ye From is obscurely fresh and original compared to a lot of theatre. But where it has the potential to go beyond our expectations of normality and be truly thought-provoking, I think it falls short. It is a brilliant message nonetheless: “We are one race, the human race”.
Wild Card: Where Ye From played Sadler’s Wells until 9 May. For more information and tickets, see the Sadler’s Wells website.