★★★★| Leave to Remain
Leave to Remain, now playing at the Lyric Hammersmith, is a modern love story set to a rock score and brilliantly tells the trials and tribulations of a multi-racial same-sex couple dealing with their upcoming marriage.
Alex (Billy Cullum) and Obi (Tyrone Huntley) met just ten months ago but they’re already in love with each other. But American Alex, you see, is 5 years clean from drugs, and the company that sponsors his work permit is moving to Abu Dhabi. Obi, meanwhile, is a successful advertising executive with a nice loft in a trendy part of town. But Alex is not a British citizen, so if his job relocates to another country Alex has to go back to America. So what could be more simple then for Alex and Obi to get married in order for Alex to remain in the country? Well, it’s a lot more complicated then it sounds.
The complications aren’t with Alex’ past drug history, nor is it with Obi’s secret meetings with a man named James, but the complications lie with their respective families. Alex’s mom Diane (a wonderful Johanne Murdock) is a non-stop talking busy body hands-on mom with a relatively patient husband Brian (Martin Fisher). Meanwhile, Obi’s father Kenneth (Cornell St. John) never quite accepted his son’s homosexuality, throwing him out of the house when he was just 16, much to the dismay of Obi’s mother Grace (a fantastic Rakie Ayola) and understanding sister Chichi (a great Aretha Ayeh). But with days and even hours, before the wedding, complications arise, and it’s touch and go if the wedding will happen at all, even in the light of a startling announcement from Alex’s parents and the continuing disapproval from Obi’s father. It’s all set to a rock score that’s just as modern and good as anything you’ll see in the West End.
All the songs that are catchy and memorable and are a very good match for the story. Credit for this goes to writer Matt Jones and writer/composer Kele Okereke (Bloc Party) who somehow seamlessly and superbly set this story in present-day London to fantastic music. There’s a brilliant, and well-choreographed scene, where both families get together for the first time and sit around a dining room table set to a song called ‘To Family’ that is both hilarious and memorable. And while not one single cast member really really stands out, it’s the mothers of both young men (Ayola and Murdock) that will most stay with you. A mother’s love for her son will always remain, no matter what. Leave to Remain, directed by Robby Graham, is a truly wonderful piece of theatre.
Leave to Remain plays at the Lyric Hammersmith until the 16th Feb 2019, Book tickets here.
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.