With immigration continuing to be a hot topic in Australia, Inua Ellams’ latest one-man show An Evening With An Immigrant – which has just finished its run as part of the Perth International Arts Festival – manages to put a much-needed human face on this highly contentious issue. But the show’s real power lies in Ellams’ own lived experience as someone still searching for a place to call home.
What a disappointment it is, then, to see such great material diminished by such unnecessary poetic embellishment. The series of poems interspersed throughout the show serve only to detract from Ellams’ own compelling story, which sees him leaving Nigeria as a 12 year old boy, only to come up against the bureaucratic nightmare of the British Home Office. Retaining the sound of poetry, but forgetting the sense, Ellams’ verses enhance little beyond a desire to return to the far more illuminating and engaging prose sections.
The pacing of the show also fails to serve the needs of the story. As we race through key moments in Ellams’ life, there is little time for the audience to properly digest all the experiences being thrown at them. With its emphasis on breadth, rather than depth, of storytelling, the show moves too quickly to allow for any serious intellectual engagement with the subject of immigration.
If nothing else, An Evening With An Immigrant should serve as a reminder to other performers to not to let a poem (or in this case, poems) get in the way of a good story. Alas, Inua Ellams’ immigrant song never quite manages to soar. Chris Prindiville
For other productions and events in the Perth International Arts Festival program visit www.perthfestival.com.au.