Zodwa Nyoni’s outstanding, true to life story of love, loss and aspiration shows the struggle of the young people of Leeds to show the whole world what they’re made of. Ode to Leeds follows five young people of Leeds as they live their youth through poetry and their passion for the spoken word, and their journey to America for the Brand New Voice championships and the possibility of being crowned International Slam Champions.
Although poetry seems to be becoming something of a lost art, here it brings to life these colourful and well developed characters in a way that is stripped back and vulnerable. The poems used within the piece allow us as an audience access to the characters mind and their true emotions, as poetry should; rather than just seeing a façade, we see the person behind the poem and the way these truths hold the team together through difficulty and devastation.
Nyoni’s characters, based on the original members of the Leeds Young Poets, are relatable and heartwarming; the comradery between the members of this group shows us just how much an art form can bring together people who may have nothing else in common, but find friendships through their passion. Every single performer captures their character with precision and in a way that allows us to connect with them on a level deeper than simply observing. You begin to feel for these characters, these people in front of you living out their dream despite everything being against them – be it money, race, religion or culture, nothing can stand in their way.
The pop culture references and use of modernised technology such as loop pedals and real-time, Skype-style video interactions keeps the production right up to speed, and the stripped back set keeps the audience focused on the words, which is exactly where the focus should be. A political stance is clear and a desperation to be more is apparent, with poems being spoken with a fiery passion and determination that cannot be denied, and incites strong emotional responses true to the style of spoken word.
This production proves that a simple stage laden with five microphones can speak louder than any musical, any lavish production and cuts straight to the real issues that real young people face, and proves to us that ‘actions speak louder than words’ is not always the case. 5/5
Review written by Hazel Hinchcliffe.
Ode to Leeds is currently showing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until Saturday 1st July 2017. To find out more about the production, visit here…