entertainment

Review | Kele Okereke's new LGBT play 'Leave to Remain' captures the highs and lows of a love story

The Bloc Party frontman co-wrote the show as well as the score

2019-01-28

Words by Simon Button

The negative reviews for Leave to Remain are thankfully in the minority but they’re so off-the-mark I wonder if there are two shows with the same name going the rounds.

It feels unfinished, some have griped, yet its characters seem fully fleshed-out to me and the score by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke is extraordinary.

One reviewer even compared it to a slowly deflating souffle that starts on a high but runs out of steam. Nonsense!

Throbbing to the beat of Okereke’s music, which blends dance beats and African rhythms to pulse-quickening effect, it’s in constant motion - a fresh piece of storytelling through dialogue, music and dance that perfectly captures the highs and lows of the love story at its centre.

That love story could do with a bit more meat on its bones. Londoner Obi (Tyrone Huntley) meets American Alex (Billy Cullum), they move in together, then it’s decision time when Alex’s firm opts to relocate to Abu Dhabi and the only way he can remain in the UK is if they marry.

Conflict comes in the form of Obi’s disapproving Nigerian father, Alex’s overbearing mother, a predatory best friend and the fact Alex is a recovering addict always on the brink of relapse, and dramatically it all feels a bit obvious.

But Huntley and Cullum are two terrific performers who make you really care about the outcome and the staging is sensational.

Director-choreographer Robby Graham conveys the thrill of sexual attraction, tensions amongst families and feuds between friends as much through movement as speech and the result is as thrillingly original as it is deeply moving.

Rating: 4*

Leave To Remain is at the Lyric Hammersmith until February 16th. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.

Images by Helen Maybanks.