STUN Studio, Z-Arts, Manchester; Tuesday 23rd October, 2018
Manchester is in the grip of a full-blown retail catastrophe: big high street brands are either going bankrupt or just shrugging their shoulders and deciding they just can’t be bothered anymore.
House of Fraser on Deansgate announced this week that they’re definitely closing, Patisserie Valerie nearly went last week; and now there are mumbling grumbles from WHSmith, Debenhams, and just about everyone else.
Casual shoppers are rapidly hurtling towards to a nightmarish future where there is no longer any nice stuff to look at in the shops anymore.
But that’s where a guy like Mamamawodi might be able to step in. You might have seen him strolling up and down Market Street: the wheeling and dealing African guy with his rickety old sales cart full of curiously naff bits and bobs – like Hello Kitty mobile phone cases, and those spinning fidgety things that kids were into last Christmas.
Could Mamamawodi be the answer to the retail apocalypse that engulfs us? After all, he doesn’t have to worry about paying £4.3 million pounds a year in rent like House of Fraser do. Could crafty street hustlers like Mamamawodi soon be our last hope of physically buying something rather than ordering it on the internet?
Written and performed by Afro-Mancunian poet Elmi Ali, Water Seeds Not Stones is an hour-long personal mission statement that rather cleverly presents aspects of the two most conspicuous personae that mingle among the civilian crowds on Market Street: the street seller and the street preacher.
Mamamawodi is definitely selling – he has lots and lots of books, and he’s got valuable insight into all of them, having clearly gone into near-forensic levels of detail to establish the true meaning of all of them. But with all that reading comes what Mamamawodi himself calls a “philosophic philanthropy” – a very personal take on how he sees the world and the people within it. Thankfully the preaching element of the show is not too preachy, it’s actually very entertaining.
Mamamawodi is such an engaging and charming character, not only are his observations on life intriguing in themselves, the way he delivers and communicates them is equally absorbing and fascinating.
His story begins in Africa at the start of the millennium; on a beach, where he spent lazy days pretending to be a solar panel whilst caressing the hairs on a coconut – apparently there are no worries when you live between the Rift Valley and the Indian Ocean. But unfortunate changes in circumstance have led him to now be a hustler on the streets, and despite having a British passport he still has to justify his existence to the Home Office van that threatens to put him on a road trip to Yarl’s Wood and a slow boat to Mogadishu.
On the face of it Water Seeds Not Stones is probably not far from the experience of actually standing on Market Street for an hour and listening to the preachy preachers banging on about this and that. But this doesn’t feel like something that you just walk away from, it’s a lot more compelling thanks to the delivery style and technique of Elmi Ali.
The show has regular musical interruptions in the form of bouncy afro-beats joviality, and there is even a full-blown audience dance-along. The spoken words from Ali are so rhythmically delivered, on occasions the oratory begins to accelerate towards rapping rather than talking, and it’s all made even more intriguing by Ali’s thick accent which seems to give a new feeling to the words being spoken and the message being conveyed.
Water Seeds Not Stones is a brilliant piece of writing, crammed full of jokes and observations that touch on plenty of today’s contemporary issues. What then elevates this beyond being an hour of futile preaching is Elmi Ali’s extraordinary performance – one in which he presents himself both as the weird foreigner who seems a bit dodgy but also as a proper character who’s clearly got a lot more to him than meets the eye.
|Visual pleasure||Centred entirely around Mamamawodi and his cart – the man himself was intriguing, dressed in his bizzarre 3-piece chequered woolen suit, plus sandals with socks. Good use of lighting to change the mood when needed.||3|
|Auditory pleasure||Beautiful use of afro-beats-style musical interruptions to break up the flow and add to the spoken-word core of the show. Most of Ali’s oratory was accompanied by the background sounds of traffic and pedestrians, helping to embed the sensation of actually being on Market Street.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||An excellent piece of writing, and brilliantly delivered as a one-man show, only towards the end did it begin to get a tiny bit tedious and take on a little bit too much of a “preachy” atmosphere. But the one-hour running time meant it wasn’t too great an issue.||4|
|Artistic delivery||Brilliant performance from Ali, creating an incredibly rich character in terms of speech and mannerisms, yet none of it seemed contrived or acted, it genuinely seemed as if this might be exactly how the Market Street hustlers are in real life.||5|
|Overall impact||Such an incredibly simple piece of theatre given that it’s a one-man show about a street vendor, yet the script and delivery are so rich and alluring. Very cleverly written and impeccably well performed. Leaves a very unusual sense of intrigue about Mamamawodi and the world he operates in.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|