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A CurtainUp London Review
by Sebastian King
Knight Watch tells the story of three young people, all played by Ellams himself, whose lives become embroiled in an on-going feud between local gangs in an urban landscape not entirely dissimilar from London. Michael keeps himself to himself, preferring to spend his time alone in his room carving wood sculptures, rather than hanging around with local gang, the Knights of New Town. When he meets Lu, a member of rival gang The House of Herne, their friendship sparks a chain of events whose repercussions spread through the city, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake.
With its magic realist style, this is an urban fairytale of biblical proportions — the streets and housing estates give way to forests, floods and flames, and Ellams paints a vivid picture of a world on the brink of apocalypse. Through his measured delivery, his words become almost hypnotic. Music is provided throughout by duo Zashiki Warashi (flautist Mikey Kirkpatrick and percussionist Akinori Fujimoto) whose unique sound fuses mythical sounding pipes with more familiar hip-hop beats. In part 3, in which we hear the story of Swift, the leader of the Knights, Ellams’s rhythm falls in line with the music, and he begins to rap. It’s an exciting moment, the synergy providing an uncomfortable juxtaposition with the words which speak of the chaos and disorder that has descended on the city.
At this performance Ellams performed through the rain, with an imposing tower block providing an appropriate backdrop to his story. The only other set is a small graffiti-covered platform which shelters the musicians, and provides Ellams with a rooftop on which to climb, and a shield behind which to make adjustments to his costume between each part, in order to reflect each of the characters. The transformation is completed by subtle changes to his voice and body language, and we have no trouble in believing in him as a teenage girl, or differentiating between his various roles.
Ellams is credited with being at the forefront of the resurgence of spoken-word as an art form, and it’s not hard to see why. His vivid and imaginative writing places equal emphasis on form and content, and he is a captivating storyteller. As he tours around the country, adapting to a range of different locations, Knight Watch is sure to continue to evolve. At 45 minutes, the piece is rather short, but what it lacks in length, it more than compensates for in intensity. As we reach the end of Michael, Lu and Swift’s epic journeys, it seems almost incomprehensible that we only met these three fully-realised characters less than an hour ago.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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