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Amsterdam (Contact, Manchester)

David Cunningham enjoys this poetry with motion at Contact, Manchester.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amsterdam, written and performed by Chanje Kunda, opens with her sitting on stage with a colander on her head.

Yet far from being self-indulgent art for art's sake this play uses blank verse,one of the more traditional storytelling telling techniques, to relate Kunda's tale.

Misquoting Thoreau Mancunian single mother Chanje lives a life of quiet screaming desperation. Having achieved some financial security she longs for escape even if only for a weekend away. Chanje becomes infatuated with a Surinamese man she meets in Amsterdam but the possibility of her moving to that city may destroy rather than support the relationship.

Although there are only two actual poems in the show the rhythmic manner of Kunda's delivery and the reoccurring phrases and themes make this a poetry event rather than a monologue. It is a rich and sensual experience; Kunda poetically compares the African landscape and the fury of the elements with the paltry Manchester rain.

Kunda's Mancunian accent ensures that her dreamy descriptions of encounters with her lover and the nightlife of Amsterdam remain grounded in reality. The story is not short of humour; at one point Kunda resorts to communicating with her son via a series of football metaphors. It has strong erotic elements with Kunda wistfully recalling her lover speaks five languages – so many tongues! – and how she would like to taste them all.

Juilet Ellis's innovative direction ensures this is a performance rather than a recitation. Although highly imaginative there no sense of a director propping up a dull play with gimmicks – all the techniques serve a purpose.

Ellis gives visual displays that match the stylish poetry. The lovers communicate using semaphore and lights flicker and pulse as their e-mail communications fly around the globe. A scolding mother expresses her opinions on her daughter's behaviour using a harsh loudspeaker.

The anarchic mood of the show is reflected also in Giula Scrimieri ‘s deceptive bare boards set, which turns out to be highly adaptive with furniture being pulled from the walls and an escape hatch in the floor.

Poetry, recited live, can be hard for an audience to accept, as it is such a personal experience. Yet Amsterdam is so lively and moving that there can be no barriers to audiences having a very good time indeed.

Dave Cunningham