Viewing life through a hoop

The Spalding Suite

Fuel Theatre

The Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome


IN AN outstanding performance of physical theatre, dance and the spoken word, theatre company Fuel enlighten the audience with mesmerising skill and precision with their performance of The Spalding Suite, directed by the superbly talented Benji Reid.

The production shows life as a basketball player and the culture of the courts. They show the audience a glimpse into the enduring sport in a deliciously explosive way.

As part of the DanceXchange programme, Fuel speak through theatrical dance and captivating physical movement. Their gripping style of telling the story through art combines high skills of movement with charming poetry performances to create a remarkably visceral and emotionally heightened account of their passion.

The company is made up of five men, individually strong, but collectively captivating. Dancers KM Drew Boateng, Marquelle Ward, George Bray, Emmanuel Akwafo and Jason York add their own unique skills to create a company of superb calibre.

They are all exceptionally gifted in their craft in their own right, but what brings them together is a shared love for theatre, art and indeed basketball. The piece combines choral sequences with all five actors moving as one, leaving the audience in awe at the skill they are witnessing.

The way they work as one unit pays testament to the skill of each performer on stage, coming together to create a collage of fantastic art.

The performance begins with the sound of the basketball being dribbled in the wing, an exciting taste of what we expect to come. When the fule Spalding Suitecompany enter, it is easy to think that the audience, although small in numbers, were completely moved at the skills they saw in front of them right from the start of the show.

In one sequence in particular, we see a movement piece of basketball practice that is precise and slick from everyone. They play with a basketball although it is invisible, the company’s brilliant mastery of movement leads our imagination to believe there is a real prop being used.

Hoop dreams and court living in The Spalding Suite from Fuel. Picture: Manuel Vason

Each performer’s dancing and physical movement is superb, heightened by their wonderful characterisation and commitment to each of their roles they played.

Akwafo, in particular, injected the piece with moments of comedy and silliness as we saw his journey from becoming a trainee to a basketball court hero.

There is a wonderfully moving performance in Ward’s portrayal of a basketball player with a troubled life. In him, we see into his past and instantly feel emotionally connected throughout the entirety of the performance.

Other enticing moments included when the team won, slow motion movements paired with committed expressions showed their relationship both for the sport and each other and was fantastic to watch.

The set was sparse, as it would be expected from the company. An elaborate backdrop was certainly not needed within this production because the physical movement painted the picture of their story so well. The use of lighting to create shadows and strobes to replicate ‘picture finish’ moments added to the gripping atmosphere of their piece.

Not only were this company brilliant at dance, but their delivery of poetry and the spoken word made their tale all the more exciting. The company were wonderfully captivating as they performed the words of poets Jacob Sam-La Rose, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Bohdan Piakecki, Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson. Each poet’s words were a resonant addition to the already brilliant performance that we saw in their dances.

Each story, character and dance sequence was perfectly wrapped within the awesome beatboxing expertise of MC Zani. He acted as the Sixth performer and gave a backdrop of rhythm to the piece. The actors and MC Zani were so in-sync with each other, that sometimes it was easy to think that a recording was playing. MC Zani gave an awesome urban vibe to the whole performance and superbly carried the story.

The Spalding Suite is a wonderful treat for the eyes and the imagination. In their journey, they convey everything that makes for a truly remarkable performance. With movement and wonderful mastery of dance, the audience are inspired. Their delivery of a beautiful story through poetry is moving and the work between players to the backdrop of beatboxing is absolutely remarkable.

Elizabeth Halpin


The Spalding Suite heads to Ipswich, May 29-30 then Liverpool June 2-6



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