Imani Jendai: Speechless @ Contact Theatre


Imani Jendai’s SpeechLess tells the performer’s life story. A story of resilience and strength against all odds, the piece uses tap, mime and physical theatre to portray the ups and downs that most of us will face in time. Written by the performer herself, the show holds real emotional strength. Supported by direction from Charles Lauder and choreography from Shaun Cope, this show, for me, was a wonderful insight into one woman’s triumph through loss and love.

I must admit, I was a little sceptical going in to see Imani’s show. Reading the bio for the play it listed things that I would usually run a mile from if someone asked me to attend: a solo show, the performer’s life story, tap dancing. Images of self-indulgent physical monologues and abstract, pensive choreography came to mind. But how wrong I was. SpeechLess was nothing less than beautiful – a painting of vibrance, love and life.

It takes you on a journey through the performer’s past, a cultural and colourful journey filled with comedy and light. I was instantly captured by Imani appearing as the shadow of her mother through the backlit door, singing a song I felt I somehow knew in a distant memory of my own. Drawing in the audience with her slow and calculated movement, a sense of calm and anticipation set over the audience, and I felt myself drawn in, ready to live through the story with her. It unraveled slowly and delicately, but Imani’s embodiment of all the figures in her life kept the audience full of vigour and anticipation. Wonderful photos and voices of each important person dip in and out of the emotive lighting to create a real vision and soundscape for the story. The writing was simple and clear, showing us the beautiful purity of a child perspective. With the introduction of her aunt, we saw an injection of a vibrant memory of her childhood, trying on her auntie’s party dress and feeling the mixture of elation and fear we all felt when sneaking a chance to pretend to be our idols. Then trying on heeled shoes for the first time, Imani set out on a joyous tap piece perched on a mirrored soap box. The reflection of the light casting an ethereal glow onto her as if projecting a memory before us, giving us a glimpse of how she had always known to communicate, through dance.

Throughout the performance, the lighting helped create the pathways that she walked in her life. Her dreaded return journey from her mother’s to her aunt’s, her long-awaited trip to Jamaica to see her father bask in the glory of the reggae beat heat, her mundane routine once her mother was taken ill – each were shown in a subtle, yet beautiful way. The set was very minimal, but Imani used every piece of the stage to create great texture to the performance. Using only hats to symbolise a change of character was a simple but effective way of keeping the audience in on the story.

SpeechLess is a story of perseverance. Towards the end of the show, we see the dark period of her life where there was no dance, no way for her to express or speak as her mother had left her life and rendered her speechless. No motivation to move, just repeat the routine we all know too well. Until inspiration came ten years later, and that is where she leaves us: a story with a definite end, but ending on a new beginning. Leaving us with uplifting hope for what is to come, not just in her story, but that of anyone that has lost their way. The biggest thing I think this show gave the audience was a sense of togetherness. I could see the smiles of recognition from her imitation of her father, the tension that cast over us when she received bad news about her mother’s health, but most of all a huge collection of joy all around me. The audience left with a full heart and an understanding of someone’s very humble, yet significant, journey through life. I felt rather privileged to have been let into such a world I’d never come close to before. So I’d like to say thank you Imani Jendai for leaving me – truly – speechless.