A bouncing bundle of joy of a thing, Leave to Remain blends music, dance and storytelling into something rare – a musical that is actually kind of cool. Cooler than it has any right to be, even with the superb indie-pop credentials of being co-written by Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke, who provides the songs.
A stunning opening scene makes swift work of the backstory through some physical theatre: the cast whip through scene changes to show us this young gay professional couple’s whirlwind romance. They’ve shacked up together in under ten months. The plot kicks off in earnest when we learn that the company Alex, a US citizen, works for is moving to the Middle East. He goes there, or he goes home to the US. Unless, of course, the couple take the third way and marry.
Leave to Remain is a believable, if a little generic, tale of two people who have forged new identities for themselves in the city by locking out complex family ties back home. The plot unfolds through reveal after reveal which complicate the impending nuptials – Alex is an addict with an overbearingly liberal mother he has run away from, Obi’s father threw him out at 16 because he was gay – in a way that feels a little soapy and contrived, but is no less satisfying for that. But it’s true that weddings often bring out the worse in even the happiest of families, and Obi and Alex don’t stand a chance. The carefully papered-over cracks in their identities are ripped open.
The plot and dialogue skip lightly over the surface of its themes. Nothing difficult or complex is lingered on for too long before we go back to the essential business of love, marriage and the primacy of family – and there’s definitely nothing preachy or tub-thumping – but, again, that’s not its detriment. While the characters move relentlessly to towards a pretty obvious, satisfying outcome, the hard stuff slips by seemingly unnoticed but quietly seeping into to collective conscious as our new normal. A straight-out-of-the-screenwrit
Rebecca Brower’s cavernous urban shabby-chic set – with smart sliding panels facilitating sleek scene changes that don’t hold up the relentless pace – is as believably Shoreditch as the couple whose home it’s supposed to be.
Tyrone Huntley Obie’s is the real heart of the show. His performance is warm and charming but hints at just enough buried angst and disappointment to make him engaging. He’s been through it, he’s dealt with it and he’s found a way to live, which more than enough to make him heroic. He’s a deliberate foil to Billy Cullum’s highly strung, suspicious, overthinking Alex, who stalks about finding problems where there are none.
As a piece of work it feels coherent and organic – it’s like Kele Okereke, his co-writer TV scribe Matt Jones, choreographer-director Robby Graham and designer Rebecca Brower glimpsed the same future and set about making it happen.
For all its blustering guitar riffs and indie-electro urgency, the final third still flags when some songs take on a slightly more showtunes tone and the two-hour runtime without an interval begins to tell. But Leave to Remain is permeated with a sense of ease that allows the audience to relax into watching Obi and Alex’s rocky road to marriage, enjoy it and celebrate the outcome in an uncomplicated, joyful way.
Leave to Remain is on at the Lyric until 16th February. More info here.