Starting in the middle of a domestic argument over money, Nessah Muthy’s The Host never takes a backward step, presenting a complex web of divided loyalties brought to the surface by the arrival of asylum seeker, Rabea, into the life of central-character Yasmin – a fiercely independent but scarred young woman, struggling to support herself and her three equally hard-up sisters.
Rebekah Murrell’s nuanced and animated portrayal of Yasmin is the emotional heart of the play, and it is Yasmin’s volatility that keeps the tension elevated throughout. However, through the surprisingly playful and tender relationship that grows between her and softly-spoken Zakaria Douglas-Zerouali, as Syrian refugee Rabea, Yasmin begins to question her own race and sense of belonging, compounded further by her family’s reaction to her house guest.
Perhaps the most successful aspect of the play is that it more keenly interrogates Yasmin’s identity and otherness than that of Rabea, offering a pressing and ongoing challenge to his comment that: “the past is the past is the past.”
Yasmin’s sisters, visible for the majority of the play as an ever-present reminder of the emotional stakes, are very well cast indeed, with Isabella Verrico’s uncompromising yet sensitive portrayal of oldest sister Pearl’s underlying fear of people’s difference, a crucial part of the production’s success.
The Host was written in response to the Brexit vote and European refugee crisis and is being performed as part of the National Youth Theatre’s summer season, and Cécile Trémolières’ exposed and raised set lends a rawness to the up-to-date issues being explored, aided by authentic and well-chosen costumes from Ugne Dainiute.
At times, whilst very well-acted throughout, the play is a little predictable, with the dialogue slowing in the middle somewhat. However, this is more than compensated for by the extremely powerful and emotionally fraught ending, which, quite correctly, doesn’t seek to resolve any of the questions the play poses.
The Host, then, is a gripping and urgent piece of theatre, which resonates far beyond the mere 90 minutes it occupies.
Review by Ben Miller
NYT has commissioned its most recent play, The Host by Nessah Muthy (recently listed by BBC as a one-to-watch), directed by Zoe Lafferty (Queens of Syria). In response to the European refugee crisis, The Host is set on a South East London council estate and tells the story of Rabea, a Syrian refugee as he forges new relationships with the family who have taken him in all the while battling the memories of his journey to England.
22 – 26 August 2017