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Talented Cast, Turgid Content
Phil Hopkins, Travel & Arts Correspondent
The cast of Ode to Leeds. Photography by Anthony Robling
If I am in danger of becoming a victim of the generation gap then fasten your seatbelts if you're aged over 56!

First, a Google definition: "Slam Poetry is a type of competition where people read their poems without props, costumes, or music. After performing, they receive scores (0-10) from 5 randomly selected judges. The judges can be anyone: they don't even need to be poets! Scores are awarded based on how much each judge likes a poem."

Chance Perdomo as Theo and Leah Walker as Darcy. Photography by Anthony Robling
Got it?

When I was an emerging thespian the nearest I got to 'Slam Poetry' was the Horsforth Festival of Music & Drama where I took my turn to recite Shelley's Ozymandias. I didn't have props, costumes or music, scoring was 1-10 and the adjudicator was from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Not a 'slam' in sight!

But the evolution of life, and Public Relations, invariably requires a new angle. Enter the West Yorkshire Playhouse's latest offering, Ode to Leeds, a new play by distinguished Leeds writer, Zodwa 'Boi Boi Is Dead' Nyoni. Inspired by the true story of Leeds Young Authors, it tells the tale of a real group of West Yorkshire poets who fought their way to an international poetry slam competition in New York in 2011, making national news.

The production's places were familiar - Seacroft, Spencer Place, Chapeltown, Savile Mount (I spent many an hour in Sheepscar WMC as the YEP's 'Clubscene' correspondent!), the Leeds accents thick and the youth issues palpable, but I found this production hard work. It was cleverly staged by Artistic Director, James Brining, but was like wading through verbal porridge.

Archie Rush as Mack, Genesis Lynea as Queenie and Chance Perdomo as Theo. Photography by Anthony Robling
Nyoni is talented and two years ago this is what I said about her other play Boi Boi is Dead: "I really enjoyed this play and feel sure that Nyoni, the West Yorkshire Playhouse's Channel 4 Writer in Residence last year - has a bright future."

And that remains unchanged, however, this play left me artistically spinning as I struggled to determine where it was heading from the word go.

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Using poetry, rap and beatboxing, Ode to Leeds tackles subjects from young masculinity to taking pride in your city. It follows five young Loiners as they pursue their dream of reaching America's "Brave New Voices" slam poetry competition in New York.

The talented young cast includes Archie Rush (Casualty, BBC), Aryana Ramkhalawon (Waterloo Road, BBC), Chance Perdomo (Hetty Feather, CBBC), Genesis Lynea (In The Heights, Kings Cross Theatre) and Leah Walker (Citizen Khan, BBC).

They were really great performers and did a sterling job of articulating a range of youth and world issues from broken families to social worker interventions, dubious cash acquired on a Seacroft council estate to Rwanda's genocide.

However, for me there were too many layers of complexity - language, culture, politics - making this for an overly challenging evening which at best I just about appreciated but can't say that I enjoyed.

Ode to Leeds
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Courtyard Theatre
Sat 10 June - Sat 1 July
Book online wyp.org.uk

Talented Cast, Turgid Content, 15th June 2017, 14:00 PM