The Spalding Suite at Queen Elizabeth Hall
A deeply reverent ode to basketball, The Spalding Suite combines physical theatre, spoken word and beat-boxing to declare its affections. Five ballers grace the stage, a chaos of clashing characters bound by a singular passion for the sport. Emmanuel Akwafo’s bumbling Jay gets the laughs for his celebratory dancing, Marcquelle Ward’s Matt spends more time making slick moves than scoring hoops, while Jason York’s Yawo finds an escape in basketball from a troubling oppression.
Cartoonish sound effects attend every moment, from the creak of bones to the bounce of the ball, like an erratic drumbeat that drives a tune. All sound effects are performed live by MC Zani from the wings, although he has his shining moment when he spits a dizzying beatbox sequence as the star player on an opposing team.
The words are the collaborative effort of several international poets, and conjure such achingly beautiful imagery as: “the arc of the ball like a mother’s belly,” and “gravity came calling to shackle our ankles and dreams.” Comparisons are drawn between basketball and Nat King Cole’s piano-playing, mythical Prometheus and even racial equality. A pure love for the game burns at the heart of the poetry, but it’s peppered with just enough humour to keep it from becoming over-earnest.
The piece is pleasing visually too. A lecture on the anatomy of the average baller is illustrated with one man suspended by ropes and slowly rotating, as he is adorned with 3D cut-outs of the court’s box markings. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is brought strongly to mind. Later it’s Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam that is referenced, as two of the players create a tableau on a climbing wall, fingers not quite touching. The image neatly shifts into a basketball pass freeze-frame. Copious slow-motion is used, tracking the players’ movements on the court as they carve shapes through the air. The effect is filmic – small moments are elevated and linger.
Delivery of lines and movement are not as polished as in the works of some of its physical theatre peers, but this is a profound play with a rich array of theatrical components on which to feast one’s senses.
The Spalding Suite is on at Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre from 29th April until 2nd May 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for The Spalding Suite here: