As soon as Zimbabwean refugee Ishmael screws in an overhead bulb in the inner-city high-rise he must now call home at the start of Zodwa Nyoni's painfully pertinent monologue, it casts the harshest of lights on one of the most criminally marginalised sectors of society, both at home and abroad. As a young gay man forced to flee his homeland, Ishmael faces a frying pan/fire situation as he's thrown onto the mean streets of Leeds.
When not holed up in his room or trying to get his former lover to pick up the phone, Ishmael must run the gauntlet of a concrete jungle where pit bulls and young single mums run wild. Ishmael strikes up a friendship with Bex and her toddler son, Bailey, only to run scared from their brief encounter lest he continue living a lie. Even as he finds some kind of salvation via the bright lights downtown, however, Ishmael's future looks far from certain.
Arriving in a climate in which some far-right political parties would rather doors were closed to people like Ishmael, Nyoni's play couldn't be more timely. Rather than fall back on easy polemic, however, Nyoni offers up a multi-faceted saga about one man forced to live between personal borders not of his own making.
Director Alex Chisholm draws a vibrant performance from Llandel Bryant in this co-production between A Play, A Pie and A Pint and West Yorkshire Playhouse. As Bryant flits between Ishmael's monologue and exchanges with Bex and others, the wit of the writing and lightness of the playing style gives the play its depth, even as Ishmael's story remains unresolved.
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