Review - Leave to Remain at the Lyric Hammersmith

Our critics rating: 
Date: 
Friday, 25 January, 2019
Review by: 

First things first, relax: despite the title, Leave to Remain has nothing to do with Brexit. Instead, it is a fascinating new musical about the individual struggles of a gay couple looking to marry for more reasons than just love. It marks the musical theatre debut for established Bloc Party songwriter Kele Okereke, who brings his fresh sound to the stage.  

American Alex and Londoner Obi have been together for ten months, but reach an impasse when Alex’s firm are relocated to Abu Dhabi (no comment on whether this is because of Brexit). With his visa tied to his firm, he can either move to the UAE, return to the USA, or take the sane and logical option: propose.

Add into the mix that he’s a recovering drug addict, his parents are insufferable and Obi’s Nigerian father can’t cope with having a gay son, and you’ve got yourself a pretty layered show. But the focal point in this show is Obi. We flashback to the moment he comes out at home, and the frightful reaction from traditional his Christian father Kenneth (Cornell S John) that destroys Obi’s bond with his family.

Tyrone Huntley shines bright in this role, whether it’s his nervous breakdowns amid him coming to terms with his sexuality, or his stunning vocals on songs such as “More Than You Know”. John is equally great as the stern, archaic father (though he does garner the biggest laugh of the night after a particularly well-behaved performance at a meal with his new in-laws).  

It makes a vibrant theatre debut for Okereke, frontman of Brit indie band Bloc Party who burst onto the scene with hits like “Banquet” and “Helicopter”. Here, he fuses his trademark funky clean guitar riffs (often played by guitarist Chris Blake wandering the stage), with electronic beats and deep bass lines to create a unique musical vibe. There aren’t any show-stopping tunes, and while the opening “Not the Drugs Talking” is a little cringe, it’s a generally strong body of songs.

Writer Matt Jones and Okereke delve into the rave scene as a vehicle to facilitate Alex’s drug habits. Given the clever slow-motion movement in the rest of the show is otherwise so fluid and expressive, these scenes stick out like a sore thumb for just mashing some flashing coloured lights rather than utilising the brilliant choreography.

While this story is about Obi and Alex’s marriage, it pulls you in from all corners: Alex’s parents are on the rocks, Obi’s mother resents Kenneth for kicking her son out, the couple’s friends Brian and Raymond find their relationship come to a head. But just as you think it is becoming too cluttered, it all comes together in a beautiful call-and-response number “The Lies We Tell”.

It’s a captivating tale about a culture clash and gay marriage, but Leave to Remain also strikes a chord about family. No matter how bad family might treat you, there’s always a pain and a willingness to endure for the sake of blood.

Leave to Remain is at the Lyric Hammersmith unti

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