The Spalding Suite

Presented by Fuel Theatre
Directed by Benji Reid
Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
2nd - 6th June 2015

Reviewed by Lynda-Louise Tomlinson

The Boy Learnt to be a Man...

Having attended a lot of different theatre productions recently, I noticed they all have one thing in common, a happy ending. Is it too much to ask of a production, that we still leave the venue feeling moved, happy and satisfied, even though the ending wasn't necessarily a "happily ever after"!

That being said, I thought I had found my moment when, half way through this evening's performance of The Spalding Suite, I was convinced that one of the characters was going to either be killed or kill himself.

However, this amount of drama was never reached and instead, he realised he was becoming a similar beast to his father, who abused his mother and himself when he was a child and therefore vowed to change.

The play, if you can call it just a play with its heavy physical theatre and dance elements, opens in darkness with only a low light hightlighting the characters entering onto stage. When the small cast of five have found their positions, they one by one move across the stage miming basketball related movement with their positions, emotions and gestures being expressed through the beatboxing talent of MC Zani, changing his tone and pitch to suit the characters and their body language.

The set was very minimal, and with most of the basketball action being mimed, there did not seem much need for any props. Through an after performance discussion we learnt that the director, Benji Reid didn't support the use of location or such obvious props as basketball hoops, therefore allowing the dance and the physical movement to travel across the space so not to be focused upon one spot, which, in this case, would be towards the hoop. Instead, through the expression of dance, and with the allowance of artistry, the hoop appeared to be in many locations at one time.

Throughout the hour-long piece, the cast were all on stage for the majority of the performance, each coming forward to narrate a situation, and therefore bring the spotlight upon their character, of whom each had a story to tell and a different background, which were all brought together through the sport.

The character that I guess could be called "the lead", should he have to be, was Jason York's character, who we follow through his traumatic childhood of domestic abuse, to seeing this be expressed through his aggressive and abusive behaviour towards his team mates, especially when he feels as though they are succeeding.

His jealousy is cleverly portrayed through a physical piece, starting as basketball practice, and turning nasty as he begins to challenge his team mates, ending in injury and confrontation. It is beyond this that we hear of his abusive father and how he feels as though he is nothing special and therefore has to fight to succeed.

White wooden frames were among the small set of props used throughout the production, to highlight body parts in the early explanation of what makes a good basketball player, to also be used as a mirror as we see characters looking at what he wants to become.

They were later used to portray the pressures and stress of being a successful basketball player, as "the lead" is weighed down by numerous frames of all sizes, placed upon him by his team mates. He later breaks down these "barriers", and this marks the happy ending of the show - telling us that you must keep fighting, work together and work hard to succeed because "stars need planets too".

The Spalding Suite is the brainchild of spoken word and theatre maker Inua Ellams, inspired by his childhood memories of basketball, literature and hip hop, having written four previous plays for Fuel Theatre Company, the previous of which have played London's West End, Bristol's Old Vic and have won awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Fuel Theatre Company were founded in 2004 and aim to bring new and exciting work to the broadest audience possible. Led by Louise Blackwell and Kate McGrath, Fuel's projects range from outdoor shows, workshops, national tours and regional venues across the UK, including international tours across the globe.

In 2010, Fuel brought their production, Kursk, to the Everyman Theatre, another innovative piece about a Russian submarine that exploded in 2000.

The stimulus for The Spalding Suite was in the form of over ten different poems and, according to Jason York, the production was "a completely different beast" two or three years ago. The script was also based upon these poems, of real life stories and banter heard in basketball changing rooms.

The entire cast, but one, all have a background in basketball, most notably Marcquelle Ward, the Nike Freestyle champion among many other accolades of a sport and dance ilk.

If the promise of a sequel or more from this talented cast is true then I will certainly be in line for a ticket. Performing to just a small audience of less than 100, I feel productions like this deserve much more support, whereby jukebox musicals such as "Mamma Mia" and "Dirty Dancing" pull in the crowds (mainly hen nights and rowdy groups of young people) The Spalding Suite is a beautiful example of innovative staging, sound and multi layered performance.

Printer friendly page

Sorry Comments Closed