(Photo: Johan Persson)
Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸
Described as a modern love story, Leave to Remain, blends vibrant compositions by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, with a stylised poignant book by writer Matt Jones. It spiritedly navigates the complexities of modern relationships, mixed with toxic masculinity, multiculturalism, recreational drug use and penetrable city culture. A diverse story for our time and our city, wouldn’t you say?
The narrative tenderly follows young, gay couple Obi and Alex, who decide, after only a ten month relationship to get married. The immediacy, a result of Alex‘s visa coming to an abrupt end as he chooses to not move with his company to the Middle East and wishes to stay with Obi, decisively not returning to America either. Marriage to Obi, thus giving Alex his International Leave To Remain, ultimately providing the work with it’s namesake, whilst broaching the difficulty of relationships that span cultures and continents. A worthwhile commentary considering the cultural vibrancy of London, (the city setting of the work). However as the pair seek to form a union, it appears they don’t know much about each other’s past and must face their families together. It is here we learn of Obi’s strict Nigerian father who cast him out at 16, and witness a piercing exegesis on ingrained cultural defamation towards homosexuality and its psychological effect, particularly with Obi hiding this from Alex. As Obi laments his family missing out on all of the important moments in his life and tries to persuade them to attend, Alex’s family are seemingly more open, flying across the world to be there for the big day. Yet, even his family aren’t as united as they appear, and Alex’s past addictions and life attempts come to light. Making Leave to Remain a powerful portrait of the modern concept of self, consanguinity, the gay lifestyle and parental relationships. Think Kinky Boots’ Not My Father’s Son with a fresher, more indie vibe. (*Listen to Shame from the show).
It is interesting that a piece following the struggle of an ex-drug addict and his relapse in the face of mounting pressure (caused by an uncertain future), opened just as a study was released claiming that eels in the Thames were showing levels of hyperactivity due to large amounts of cocaine presenting itself in waste water. A reflection of the prevalent and very real recreational drug culture in London. Thus, it is worth mentioning that Leave to Remain’s commentary on avocational drug usage is mature and palpable, commendable as many attempts at such, glamourise or over exaggerate. We see Obi and friends trying to hide their use of cocaine from Alex before a party, this is the first act of true compassion we witness from Obi towards Alex, Obi attempting to protect him through concealment. What ensues is an extraordinarily slick and precise, stylised movement sequence, demonstrating the drug’s affect on Obi and friends as they enjoy a night out together. Yet, these movement sequences continue to come thick and fast throughout the piece. They are wonderfully unique and of possibly the best execution we have ever seen in terms of fluidity and power. But most importantly, they do much to tie the work together, linking back to drug use and indicating Alex’s prior substance abuse, demarking it as an important social concept, whilst also generally demonstrating the pain, anguish and euphoria of the protagonists as they navigate the possibility of a future together. These lucid sequences particularly thrive due to the strength of the ensemble who gel together flawlessly, aptly performing the complexities and accents.
The connectivity of these laxations thus conveying the fundamentals of the piece, particularly relationships and the delicate balance required in order to sustain them. Whether they are that of a parent-child/father-son dynamic or of marriage and sanctity. Therefore Leave to Remain provides an excellent exposé on propinquity, not only does it explore the possibility of a marriage between Obi and Alex alongside their dysfunctional relationships with their parents, it also highlights that even marriages that appear perfect aren’t always what they seem. This is where the work delicately fades in on and dissects Obi’s parents marriage, subtly showing his mother’s disagreement with his father’s religiously steered disapproval of his sexuality and the cutting of Obi out of their lives, we are directed towards the love she holds for her son combined with a fear to speak up in order to endure her marriage. Similarly the snide comments from Alex’s father in response to his mother’s excitement and expropriation, tenuously point towards martial problems with separation on the cards. The piece ultimately pointing out that marriage is a giving and taking, reciprocal agreement. It is a commitment to be the other person’s reason to stay. Much like Obi is Alex’s reason to stay in the UK emotionally, as well as literally, as the marriage effectively grants him International Leave To Remain. Therefore the choreography set to Okereke’s score, combines with Jones’ ingenious book eloquently, all vibrantly and sagaciously tackling the subject matter. An amicable venture that pays off, what is presented is gently balanced and sympathetic visual theatrical anarchism, that is not only truthful but affectionate and raw. The vibrancy of the compositions reflecting the millennial, indie, city-slicker/party lifestyle, despite bleak times and adversity, clearly the life-blood of Okereke himself. With the book also giving the character’s much needed dimension and wit.
Though, it is important to note that there is something strikingly undeveloped about the work, Jones’ book is incredibly intelligible, yet the piece seems somewhat predictable. Whilst Okereke’s score neglects a true stand out number, it plays like an indie-pop opera that continuously lands on the same level, not necessary utilising the talents of its performers. Nevertheless, as earlier mentioned the entire cast symbiotically work together incredibly well, whilst Tyrone Huntley, (Obi) and Billy Cullum, (Alex) provide heart-wrenching, gripping and pure performances that both astonish and delight. The set surrounding them, is beautifully understated, compiled of a grungy looking warehouse vibe, complete with upper walk way, some set pieces and screens that are brought on and off, suggestive of a converted building made into flats, (a commonality in the city). Ultimately allowing the performance to speak for itself. The lighting design alternatively coacts, dynamically working well to react and move with the movement sequences. Both techniques appropriately furnishing the overall offering.
To conclude, Leave to Remain still needs work to really push it to the next level. But it’s subject matter is intriguing and relevant, whilst the delivery is effervescent and modern. A clean and ultimately enjoyable watch. To find out more and book your tickets, click here.
*Kele Okereke also recorded the soundtrack and it is now available on Spotify and ITunes.
Obi – Tyrone Huntley
Alex – Billy Cullum
Diane – Johanna Murdock
Chichi – Aretha Ayeh
Grace – Rakie Ayola
Raymond – Sandy Batchelor
Damien – Arun Blair-Mangat
Kenneth – Cornell S. John
Brian – Martin Fisher
Written by Matt Jones
Written by Kele Okereke
Directed by Robby Graham
Designed by Rebecca Brower
Lighting by Anna Watson
Sound by Mike Thacker for Orbital
Music Supervisor – Phil Cornwell
Associate Musical Director / Kate Marlais
Casting Director – Will Burton CDG