Review: Baba Israel’s The Spinning Wheel @ Contact Theatre

Photo Credit: Contact Theatre, Manchester

Photo Credit: Contact Theatre, Manchester

I often find immersive theatre tiring, filled with gimmicks and tricks to lull you into a sense of connection that often disappoints, becoming genre rather than craft.

Subtlety is what distinguishes the immersive theatre of Baba Israel‘s The Spinning Wheel and is key to its success. From the moment I stepped into the theatre, greeted by Baba himself like he knew every one of us, I felt welcomed, present and invited to be a part of this story, a device that was charming, honest and in keeping with the rest of the piece. Part memoir, eulogy, personal journey and political discourse, The Spinning Wheel never feels lacking in authenticity, heart and reason.

At its core is well-crafted poetry that is empowered through music (mostly hip-hop and jazz) and exciting visuals, alongside a smattering of found footage and audio. These forms are brought together effectively, each working to support the other rather than distract or move away from their connected point. The convergence of these mechanics work to draw you closer in, feeling simultaneously entranced and bewildered. The story is interesting intellectually and emotionally and I left with a genuine sense of having connected to something and of having been on a journey. This is spoken word theatre at its true finest, managing never to feel like a set list linked intangibly with ‘banter’.

Performing in Space 1 at Contact Theatre felt like an important moment for Baba, having first visited the theatre with his father and with his daughter having been born only across the road. I was intrigued how Baba collaborated with found material – videos, audio and poems from his and his father’s past, opening up an interesting dialogue between artists, between family, between memories. As a posthumous biography of sorts it doesn’t shy away from conflict and tension, feeling much more a true portrait of a legacy than idolatry. The inheritance here is more than genetic, it’s being a part of and continuing the message of influential, creative thinking.

And if that isn’t convincing enough, there’s soup, experimental didgeridoo and impressive free styling.