“Call Me Ishmael”

You might think that you would need more than one actor and one suitcase to put on a play which journeys from Zimbabwe to Britain, and moves scenes from parks, to clubs, to streets, to homes, with characters as diverse as a gay Zimbabwean asylum seeker called Ishmael, a single white British mum called Becs, her cute son who likes fire engines, a dodgy landlord and a ruthless home office “removals” team, to name just a few! 
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But Zodwa Nyoni’s script, Alex Chisholm’s direction, and Lladel Bryant’s performance all work together perfectly, to succeed in the way that only one-actor plays can, in really bringing you into the life of a lead character.
 
Creativity, imagination, empathy and passion fill the bare stage, making every character come alive and every scene real.
 
The play will be seen as being about the asylum process and about homophobia, within and without that process. But it is about more than that. It is about universal issues of isolation, identity, belonging, dignity, and friendship. And that is its power. Because it shows that, above all, Ishmael is not just “an asylum seeker” or “a gay man”. He is a person, just like everyone else.
 
Ishmael’s simple wish, among the chaos of his situation, is to be allowed to be himself, and to make friendships where friendship is offered.
 
While never shying away from the grim realities, the play gives hope with its openings of friendships. Friendships from shared experiences; Most obviously, the dancer in the gay nightclub. But most strongly, the friendship with the single mum, Becs, who also wants to live beyond a society stereotype, who wants to escape isolation, and, most of all, just wants to have a safe home, to which she can invite a friend for a chat and a cup of tea. 
 
This play will get many positive reviews, but perhaps the one they will be most pleased with was delivered by an audience member who has lived through the asylum system, who thanked Lladel Bryant after the performance : “That was my story. That was exactly my story”.
 
The play is touring until December before going to the Arcola Theatre in London in January.  See the Nine Lives leaflet
More details at www.leedsstudio.org 
The book of the play, published by Methuen Drama, is also available at tour venues or through the website.
 
Review by  Phil Broadhurst
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