Thursday, 26 October 2017

REVIEW: STORY JAM, Reel and Unravel: Rough Crossings at Canada Water Culture Space

Storytelling is the most ancient form of performing art, for the innate desire human beings have always had to share personal thoughts and experiences with others. Potentially, storytelling has the same age of human language itself and, even now, it is felt as a highly rewarding form of artistic expression, for its power to create an immediate and unfiltered connection between the performer and their audience. Unfiltered, because in most instances – as in the one I went to see at the Canada Water Culture Space – the effectiveness of the message conveyed doesn't rely on the use of fancy props, makeup, costumes, nor on particularly elaborated audio-visual effects, to make an impact on the spectators. 

Curated by Lucy Lill and Alys Torrance, Story Jam offers a season of events called 'Reel and Unravel', where storytelling and live music intertwine with fascinating results. Protagonist of the one I took part in, was Phil Okwedy, who shared his 'Rough Crossings' episodes with the support of the 30-strong London Shanty Collective. Born in Cardiff to a Welsh mother and Nigerian father, Okwedy took the audience on a long and perilous journey by sea, accompanied by the shanty musical repertoire, which is deeply rooted in the British maritime working-class. Back in the days of merchant sailing vessels, these songs accompanied the tasks of the sailors, providing a rhythm that allowed them to synchronise their input and minimise the effort.

On the bare set, lit with colourful floodlights, Okwedy evoked talking skulls, fake heavens, brave horses and spiritual connections, with his reassuring presence and a soothing deep voice. His well-paced tales always offered a final twist, which was at times amusing, like in the case of the skull in the cave and the dead gambler, or heart-breaking, as for the young horse-owner, and certainly inspiring, especially for the last and more personal story about his deceased father. This tale in particular, though, felt a bit undercooked, and suggested a vast unexplored potential for a longer and more elaborate piece. 

After the break, there was an interlude by Jo Clayton, in charge of the second instalment of Story Jam's serial story 'The Little Beggar'. Floating in between stand-up comedy and children's workshop interaction, her contribution to the evening seemed greatly appreciated by the audience but left me totally cold as something that didn't reflect the elegant unfolding, nor the cosy atmosphere rendered by Okwedy. If it wasn't for this intermission, I'd have happily added an extra star to my rating.

As Torrance said at the end of this session, there are no stories to be told if there's not an audience and I was delighted to see the beautiful Canada Water Culture Space theatre filled with a diverse crowd, visibly eager to let Okwedy entertain them with his thoughtful and evocative tales.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★
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