What happens when basketball meets theatre? Answer: The Spalding Suite

The production has been created by spoken word artist Inua Ellams with a cast which includes UK beatbox champion MC Zani, mixing live music and hip-hop with basketball-inspired movement and poetry.

It is a firmly British perspective, focusing on the hoop dreams of those involved as well as relationships and kinship between them.

Ellams, a keen player in his youth and now, brought it to life and we caught up with him on calling the plays.

Where did the idea come from for this come from?

I had written about basketball on a number of occasions. Very simply I just wanted to stage those poems. It’s not so much a play but a collection of poems. It’s about team dynamics, it’s about friendship, it’s about reasons why people play basketball through the eyes of five very different characters.

It’s a sport I used to play when I was a kid, when I was living in London and Dublin. I haven’t played in quite a few months but I had been playing with a group of other creative and musicians, even a few lawyers. It’s always been in there.

Are there any parallels to be drawn between theatre and basketball, especially in the plays, the team and the choreography?

I don’t see the similarity. There’s a narrative in the structure of poetry and the same in a basketball team but they’re very different. I didn’t write all the poems in this but I did take things from the sport. I worked with some sports scientists and physiotherapists to write a couple of them, just to get ideas about what makes a basketballer and that fits in at the start and at the end.

What I tried to do was make it fun and make it exciting and make it interesting. I didn’t learn anything new necessarily. There’s a lot to be said about how the body responds when you play a sport competitively for a period of years and how it breaks down and creates tension, how it affects the posture. I found a lot about that through the scientists but I didn’t discover anything new about the game itself. I just enjoyed the writing process.


Jason York and KM Drew Boateng in The Spalding Suite

Jason York and KM Drew Boateng in The Spalding Suite

How does performing your work compare to performing on court?

They’re very different for me. It comes from different places. When I read a poem, those are my words whereas in basketball, you have the whole team around you.

You wrote much of the production and the concept. How does the end-product compare to what you’d expected?

It was different from what I’d imagined the show would be, from the structure, in the pacing and in elements of how the story would come out. The director created a different language and script so it was revealing and a frightening experience the first time. But I’ve learnt to enjoy it more as an audience member more than as a writer, and that’s part of the journey when you collaborate.


The Spalding Suite is at the Liverpool Everyman from June 2-6.

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