In Leave to Remain, I was absorbed during the first fifteen minutes and believed I was witnessing the next big thing to be produced in London. The music was sensational and combined with its unique use of movement, this captivating atmosphere was created. But in the scenes which followed, my initial impressions were proved wrong. The show played into one too many clichés and negative character stereotypes. The music and movement continued to be excellent, but the musical is ultimately let down by its book.
In Leave to Remain, we follow a young couple living in London. Obi (Tyrone Huntley) is a British Nigerian who works in Digital Marketing and Alex (Billy Cullum) is an American working in the UK and is managing sobriety after a history with drug addiction. When Alex’s firm plans to move to Abu Dhabi, the pair resolve to get married so that they can remain together.
A key part of the story-telling is through this exciting combination of music and movement. The score is composed by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke and weaves together west African rhythms with electronic dance music. The movement is choreographed in such a way that it characterises a certain mood or a character’s thoughts and inner feelings. Brought together, the musical sequences were dynamic and intriguing to watch. For example in ‘To Family’, Obi’s conservative family and Alex’s liberal American parents all sit around the dinner table and the conversation is fraught with tension. In the number, the actors twitch and jerk to menacing techno beats and it effectively portrays the mood.
To its merit, the musical touches on multiple topical themes such as drug addiction, homophobia and the clash experienced by generations who try to reconcile their British identity and African culture. I didn’t expect to hear jokes about jollof rice but it was an unexpected joy to see a family environment like my own portrayed on stage, as it’s not something that you often see.
But although the show introduces a diverse range of characters, I don’t feel like the book did justice in portraying them convincingly. Alex’s mum is written as the American housewife who is seemingly loud, annoying and not much more. Obi’s dad is the unsympathetic and intolerant Nigerian dad and don’t get me started on the predatory gay best friend who’s actually in love with Alex. I felt there was so much more potential to shape these characters in interesting and believable ways, but disappointingly they just felt too predictable.
Beyond this, I felt like the drama between our central couple heightens to such a degree that they would be better off not getting married. There are so many couples and families whose lives are at risk of being torn apart due to visa complications and I expected this to be the central conflict in the show. But here, the couple appear to be just giving marriage a go despite some serious trust issues and the fact that they don’t appear to know each other that well. Instead of rooting for them as we are meant to, I became seemingly less interested in what the eventual outcome was.
I applaud the show for experimenting and incorporating some new ideas. But as I couldn’t become invested in the story or any of the characters, I didn’t enjoy it as much I wanted to.
Leave to Remain is running at the Lyric Hammersmith until 16th February 2019.