Review: Leave To Remain

Image from Lyric Theatre Hammersmith website
Leave To Remain at Lyric Hammersmith until 16 February 2019

IN BRIEF A tight, contemporary urban musical with a compelling story and movement which deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

It’s great to welcome a new musical set in London and this one has a lot going for it.

The story of a same-sex couple whose relationship is tested to its limits by visa regulations has a timely feel.  And it’s great to find a contemporary musical which reflects the look, sound and dynamic “feel” of London. What really distinguishes this show is the excellent cast, intriguing and captivating music (by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke) and the direction/movement which adds its own value to the overall show.

Obi and Alex meet in London (in a whlrlwind-fast setup which opens the show) and only 10 months into their relationship, Alex’s company plans to move from the UK, taking him with them as he is American. The pair’s decision is to marry (so Alex can stay) is fraught with uncertainty and surprise as the compressing of their short time together into a legal commitment puts strain on their relationship and also their families. Family exposure brings new and old issues to the fore and the pair must address these before finding a stronger commitment. Can they navigate the pitfalls and fully trust each other?

The music mix is recorded, complemented by Chrio Blake’s live guitar accompaniment, and is always intriguing though occasionally over-repetitive. The songs do not have a traditional “musical theatre” structure but still allow characters to elaborate their feelings in a manner which feels very current and for musical theatre, exciting. Personally, I really enjoyed the music’s ability to sweep me along with it. The two leads, Tyrone Huntley as Obi and Alex, played by Billy Cullum are dramatically and vocally impressive – both actors have powerful voices which they use to the full.

Choreographer Robby Graham directs, and certainly the fully integrated movement/dance is one of the eye-catching things about this show. Put to specific use, it creates a disorientating and unsettling feeling particularly during scenes of high tension, such as the family dinner party, and Alex’s comedown from a drug relapse, which is both fascinating, tightly-drilled and effective. The scene containing four separate conversations (staged simultaneously and in the same space) is particularly ingeniously done, highlighting characters’ similarities and differences at the same time by assured vocal choreography. Rebecca Brower’s industrial-feel set designs are flexible, dynamic and restrained leaving plenty of open space, effectively reflecting London’s loft-living generations.

My only concerns were that the script spends much more time on Obi’s backstory than Alex’s, which affects our ability to care about both characters and their relationship. Matt Jones’s script does vary its pacing but sometimes that pacing is too slow (leading to one or two over-extended songs and scenes) so that getting to the story’s conclusion (in the straight-through 1 hour 55 minutes) feels rather rushed, somewhat cluttered, and therefore less dramatically satisfying than it might have been.

I saw this show at its last preview with an audience mostly aged under 35, who took to it eagerly and attentively. They ate it up, as did I.

Information and tickets here

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