HRP Tower of London Inua Ellams January 29 2018.

Award-winning poet and playwright Inua Ellams is, by his own admission, “terrified” at the prospect of performing his reactive and spontaneous Search Party at Oxford Playhouse on Thursday November 5 via Zoom.

The writer of the brilliant and highly acclaimed Barber Shop Chronicles, The Half-God of Rainfall and An Evening With An Immigrant, amongst others, has only performed his latest foray Search Party three times, so remains nervous at the prospect of being led entirely by his audience.

He said: “All I know is that something unpredictable will happen because I have done this show a few times and it is very much in the moment.

Inua Ellams

“It means it is different each time and creates its own piece of work in the process. I just hope people will love it and enjoy it.”

Search Party is a special, unique, audience-led poetry event being put on by The Oxford Playhouse via Zoom. Inua will be performing live from his blue velvet sofa in his London home and audiences will be invited to pick any word they choose.  

Prompted by audience suggestions, Inua will then search through his extensive archive of work and perform a reactive and spontaneous selection from stories, poetry and other observations.

He added: “Audiences should come expecting to get out as much as they give.”

Inua has always enjoyed mixing the old with the new: traditional African storytelling with contemporary poetry, and an emphasis on themes of identity, displacement and destiny.

Take his Barber Shop Chronicles for example, which leaps from a barber shop in Peckham to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra over the course of a single day. It has played two sell-out runs at the National Theatre and embarked on a world tour, visiting Oxford Playhouse in 2019.

Inua Ellams

So why is he so nervous about Search Party given the global success of his previous work? “Well anything really can happen really which is going to be really interesting,” he laughs. “And some verbal gymnastics because I never know what words are going to be suggested in Search Party.”

Lockdown has been challenging for Inua, as with many performers, but he’s been writing and working on various projects and next week will also be performing An Evening With An Immigrant at London’s The Bridge Theatre.

He added: “Lockdown has been up and down for me because I am used to being very sociable yet couldn’t do any events. So if anyone joins Search Party who doesn’t know much about my work, they will be able to experience the poetic process and see a different side to the relationship between audience and performer.”

Search Party will at Oxford Playhouse for an hour with a Q&A at the end on Thursday November 5.

The performance will be available via Zoom. Go to https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/whats-on/all-shows/inua-ellams-search-party/13745

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