Theatre review: Leave to Remain

John Nathan enjoys a musical about a gay wedding


Kele Okereke, frontman for the English rock group Bloc Party, and TV writer Matt Jones ( Mr Selfridge and Dirk Gently, amongst others), decided it would be a good idea to make a show about gay marriage.

The result is a lively London-set musical that is actually as much about the family of the couple – American Alex ( Billy Cullum) and Briton Obi (Tyrone Huntley) – as the couple themselves. Alex works for a company that is relocating to a not particularly gay-friendly part of the Middle East (so not Tel Aviv, then). If they are to stay together in London, they are going to have to get married. A date is set and the parents are invited. Alex’s are liberal Americans who fly over from the States for the nuptials, but his mother is overbearing. Obi’s parents are conservative Nigerians living in London. His mother is loving, but his dad Kenneth (Cornell S. John) is cannot bear the thought of his son being gay.

It’s with Obi’s homecoming, when he tells his family of his pending marriage, that Robby Graham really sets out his stall. The scene is the first in a series of sequences in which the cast launch into meticulously choreographed dumb-show, slo-mo. In this one Obi watches a flashback of his younger self suffering at the hands of his homophobic dad. In another the families meet for dinner at their sons’ apartment, where the slowed action reveals, very funnily, the laboured etiquette of the meeting. Moments of anguish or discomfort on the faces of the assembled diners would be fleeting in real-time. But slowed right down they make every negative thought visible.

Okereke’s music, meanwhile - a mix of West African Highlife and urban electronica – propels the evening with an infectious score. Rarely these days for a musical, it can stand independently of the show it was written for. The show is well acted (John in particular is excellent as Obi’s dad, revealing how bigotry and humanity can co-exist in the same person) and the choreography drilled to the hilt.

My only gripe is that Jones – who writes very wittily – bites off a little more narrative than two uninterrupted hours can chew. But it’s one of the freshest and most original pieces around.  

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