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Leave To Remain at the Lyric Hammersmith | Review

Billy Cullum (Alex) and the cast of Leave to Remain at the Lyric Hammersmith. Photo by Helen Maybanks.
Billy Cullum (Alex) and the cast of Leave to Remain at the Lyric Hammersmith. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

It’s a sweeping generalisation, but the pressure is on the younger generation today like it hasn’t been for those who have gone before. With the ubiquity of social media and mobile telephony, to steal a line from Teyve in Fiddler on the Roof,The whole world has to know our business.” So it is with Obi (Tyrone Huntley) and Alex (Billy Cullum), a young couple in Leave To Remain, a play with songs that might as well have been called Referendum? What Referendum?, as it seeks to demonstrate how families are quite capable of having red lines and deadlocks of their own regardless of what is (or rather isn’t) happening in the corridors of political power.

The world has moved on a bit since the era portrayed in shows like The Inheritance and Angels in America – the Aids virus is not even mentioned here, which makes the issues faced by Obi and Alex somewhat underwhelming by comparison. It’s a cliché, perhaps, but it’s not like anybody died in the course of this narrative. The production is not afraid of stereotypes – Kenneth (Cornell S. John), Obi’s father, can’t abide the idea of his son marrying a man, while Alex’s parents, Brian (Martin Fisher) and Diane (Johanne Murdock), are American liberals. But there are some nuances to the supporting characters: Kenneth doesn’t exactly disinherit Obi, and because of the relatively expressive nature of Alex’s family, Kenneth is also able to come out of an extremely awkward meeting of the families by placing it on the record, quite justifiably, that he behaved “impeccably”.

As a whole, the show ebbs and flows. The pacing is uneven, with a lot of narrative strands in the final half-hour or so. Having introduced family members and a friend or two of the young couple, the stories of those around Alex and Obi end abruptly, with issues unresolved, and more questions raised than answered. Even the reason for marrying is rather contrived: Alex’s work visa is by definition tied to his employment, and for reasons not fully explained, his position in his company is being relocated to the UAE. But if he marries Obi then he can obtain leave to remain (geddit?). But they’ve only just met. But they’re in love. And, as predictable as night follows dusk, getting hitched isn’t as straightforward as the young ‘uns thought it would initially be.

Some reasonably good punchlines permeate the plotline, helping to maintain interest, while the movement (I can’t, in all honesty, call it ‘dancing’) matches the story well enough. But the faster the rhythms and the beats, the slower the narrative – and it seemed to me that the more reflective tunes drove the narrative forward the most. Fortunately or unfortunately, the honeymoon period appears to be over before the honeymoon has even begun (if, indeed, there is to be one at all), and the production suggests that there is something that remains inherently troublesome and worrying about a lack of acceptance from certain quarters regarding people’s sexual orientation in this day and age. The standout performance for me was from Aretha Ayeh as Chichi, Obi’s sister, who does her utmost to calm and comfort Obi even as their parents continue to shun him for not being straight.

I started by quoting Fiddler on the Roof, partly because a production happens to be on in London at the time of writing, and partly because in that show, as in this, there’s a portrayal of the old and the new, where ‘tradition’, so to speak, is being swept aside by the next generation, and there are complex family dynamics that accompany such changes. As far as this show goes, however, I couldn’t warm to the driving techno beats – I found them too repetitive, and the tunes were neither hummable nor memorable. The show could do with a showstopper just as much as it could do with an interval.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Give me your worst day
I’ll take the strain
Give me all the times you go insane
Your leave to remain

Leave to Remain is a tender portrait of love in the face of an uncertain future. Obi (Tyrone Huntley) and Alex (Billy Cullum) are a young gay couple leading busy London lives. When Alex’s visa comes into question, their relationship takes a turn. Marriage is an option, but the timing isn’t perfect, and it means confronting their families and their pasts.

A modern love story with music by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke

Written by Matt Jones and Kele Okereke
Directed by Robby Graham
Designed by Rebecca Brower
Lighting by Anna Watson
Sound by Mike Thacker
Music Supervisor Phil Cornwell
Casting Director Will Burton CDG
Associate Musical Director Kate Marlais
Assistant Director Diane Page

Lyric Hammersmith, King Street, Lyric Square, W6 0QL

Lyric Hammersmith Tickets


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