“a script filled with warmth and humour that’s not afraid to tackle complex issues with nuance and maturity”
Spend more than a few minutes on Twitter and you’ll no doubt be confronted by a bevy of hot takes on attitudes to race in current society. And while they raise a number of crucial questions and issues, they can often feel intangible. Thankfully, Zia Ahmed’s I Wanna Be Yours is here to cut through the social media academia and let the ideas play themselves out in a fundamentally human and earnest way.
I Wanna Be Yours follows a blossoming romance between struggling actor Ella (Emily Stott) and struggling poet Haseeb (Ragevan Vasan), and the wider societal and cultural hurdles that they have to overcome in trying to make it work as an inter-racial couple. Events such as meeting your partner’s family for the first time that are already nerve-wracking take on a whole other level as Ella faces rejection from Haseeb’s aunt on account of being white and Haseeb has to stomach the entrenched racism in Ella’s family that has gone previously unchecked. However, these instances are largely not treated with the heaviness that is frequently seen when this subject matter is depicted – Ahmed is smartly selective in when to intensify the gravity and when to revel in the absurdity of other moments, such as Ella’s frantic Google search as to whether the black face paint used in Mummers’ Plays had racist origins or not. The result is a script filled with warmth and humour that’s not afraid to tackle complex issues with nuance and maturity.
Ahmed’s script also introduces a few surreal elements into the story, particularly one featuring a very literal elephant in the room, but they unfortunately feel half-baked and not fully committed to, culminating in an ending that tries to tie these elements together but consequently doesn’t feel as meaningful as it could have. The pacing also suffers from the themes and ideas not feeling like they’re being especially expanded upon in the second half of the play, and certain conflicts feel a little forced. However, one element which almost consistently endears is the relationship between Ella and Haseeb.
Both Stott and Vasan display a masterful characterisation of the text, fleshing out texture and colour in every line. Under the kinetic direction of Anna Himali Howard, their dynamism fully inhabited the space, which was bare save for an inexplicable carpet that looked like it had been stolen from the home of someone’s gran. Out-of-place carpets aside, the chemistry between the two was able to strike the difficult balance between them clearly exuding their love for each other without excluding the audience.
This is in part due to that Stott and Vasan were not so much a couple as a throuple, being joined throughout the play by Rachael Merry as an integrated BSL interpreter, who frequently enhanced the language and characterisation in the way her interpretation also served to physicalise the subtext and bring further layers to the experience. I Wanna Be Yours has many beautiful, cheeky, and hard-hitting moments, and it is undeniably exemplary in its accessibility, but the sum of its parts struggles to fully engage.
“a play with such vitality at every level that you can only leave the theatre out of breath”
A persuasive drama underlining the need to keep siblings together when adoption happens forms the heart of the authoritative The Arrival, receiving its world premiere at the Bush Theatre.
Better known for his hard-hitting direction of such plays as The Brothers Size, A Taste of Honey and Barber Shop Chronicles, Bijan Sheibani turns to writing with this debut one act play, which he also directs.
The confident writing is potent, the nuanced direction robust in this two-hander which takes the simple premise of English Iranian brothers meeting as adults for the first time after one was adopted as a child.
There is, of course, a sting in the tale: the stirring family reunion also opens up years of suspicion, hurt, devastating truths, tension and vulnerability. Questions about nature, nurture and masculinity come to the fore as the brothers, who are little more than strangers to each other, struggle to communicate though they initially get on.
The emotional depth of the encounter is played out in the round on a raised bare circular stage (designed by Samal Blak), which occasionally rotates, so attention is focussed on the lines and performances.
And the two performances perfectly bring the finely written script to life in a breathless succession of short and pithy scenes, meaningful episodes in the lives of two brothers joined together biologically yet worlds apart emotionally. Despite the attributes they share a key part of the play is wondering if they will ever be able to connect deeper down.
There are tense scenes when we witness the physical strength of the two brothers, through cycling, running and dancing though the younger brother is clearly the one less fit of the two, drawing other complexities to the surface.
Scott Karim’s Tom is the arrival of the title, a computer specialist who runs his own business. He is never quite able to shake off the gnawing sense of abandonment by his parents all those years ago, yet is eager to embrace his “new family.” Karim manages to balance the nervous energy of one excitedly rediscovering his past with the tragic realisation that those he left behind have lived their lives pretty happily without him.
On the other side is Irfan Shamji’s Samad, the younger brother who has to adjust to the new situation and who is far less enamoured by the thought of meeting a brother he barely knew about or his family. This brother has had far more opportunities in life (such as public school and a university education) yet is content in his publishing business and anxious about this possible interloper. He is far more uncertain of himself and wary of his brother, but he feels he has more to lose with a possible new rival to family affections.
The two actors dance around each other verbally and physically with a grace and purpose – no wonder there was a need for Aline David as movement director. It is like watching two sparring partners in a boxing ring, each with a reserved respect for the other but both knowing there will come a time to fight and win.
Even though less is more in this play the writing and performances are such that you want it to last longer. It could be argued that the exact reason for Tom’s adoption is never spelt out and this information would be helpful in a piece that often veers towards the enigmatic, but there isn’t really the time to worry about such omissions.
Sheibani’s skill is in taking the domestic crisis and holding up a mirror to a broader view of society and a world scared to explore emotions or be true to ourselves. The audience is left desperately wanting – perhaps even needing – the brothers to understand one another and re-form a part of their lives so sadly missing, but the cruel reality is that the future doesn’t look bright.
The Arrival is a confident and intelligent new work that once again shows off the Bush as a testing ground for fresh drama to be reckoned with. It is a play with such vitality at every level that you can only leave the theatre out of breath.