Leave to Remain review: intriguing gay-marriage musical from Kele Okereke

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The Bloc Party frontman has co-written a fast-paced tale on the pitfalls two young men face trying to get hitched


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The undisputed highlight of this febrile new play takes place at about the halfway point, over a family dinner.

In fact, it’s a little more complicated than that: the parents of a gay couple are meeting for the first time, a few days before their sons are getting married. You can probably picture it now.

Expertly paced, exuding humour and excruciating truth amidst extremely believable family tensions, this brilliant scene resonates – whatever your experience – especially during the cleverly choreographed slow motion numbers.

Yes, slow motion: acutely styled physical movement plays a key part in the play’s direction, by none other than Robby Graham, who choreographed Angels in America.


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Written by Matt Jones (whose telly credits include Doctor Who, Mr Selfridge) and Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, Leave to Remain is a timely – and agreeably far from well-worn – story. Its simple premise is that high-achieving Obi (Tyrone Huntley) and ex-addict Alex (Billy Cullum) are a successful young gay couple living in a warehouse flat in Shoreditch. When American Alex’s visa comes into question, with a possible work relocation to Abu Dhabi, they decide to get hitched, which means confronting their very different upbringings.

It’s this can-of-worms axis that drives the plot swiftly forward: Alex wrestles with an obsessively controlling mother (a wide-eyed Johanne Murdock), Obi a super-strict religious Nigerian father (an amusingly deadpan Cornell S. John).

Tyrone Huntley and Billy Cullum. Photo: PR

The way the play weaves its themes feels fresh; after all, how many musicals are there about gay marriage, even now? And there’s much truth in the fact that same-sex weddings still, even in 2019, have an ability to unnerve family members, whether liberal or god-fearing, even if they’re supposedly resigned to their offspring’s homosexuality.

There’s also a sadly all-too-common belief deep within Obi’s core that as a gay son feels he has in some way failed his parents: therefore he’s pushed to work harder, even being awarded (barely acknowledged by his father) a first at uni. Tyrone Huntley convincingly embodies these dilemmas, with a restrained, rather despondent edge, offset by his concerned ‘rock’ of a sister ChiChi (the likeable Aretha Ayeh).

Elsewhere, while the strained gay son-father relationship is no surprise, it’s refreshing to see the stereotype of the gay man being close to his mother turned on its head: “You have a super power to get under my skin,” says an angry Alex at a key point.

But it’s not too dark: the humour is often laugh-out-loud, from some light Jamie Oliver bashing to hilarious gags about the gay-icon status of both David Beckham and 50 Cent.

So what didn’t work so well? The elongated eve of the wedding meltdown could have been clipped a little, and at times, as a fan of Bloc Party, I felt initially disappointed by the songs, what Kele describes as “West African High Life music mixed with electronic dance music that I hear in clubs today”. Yes, there are hooks, and a sense of energy – but their subtlety means it’s unlikely you’ll be humming an anthem on your way home.

However, a second (and third) listen to the soundtrack album on Spotify confirms that – as hoped for – the tracks are real growers: standouts include the catchy Sea Between Us, the mournfully descending riffs in Shame and the outstanding More Than You Know, which builds up to a real climax.

So how will Leave To Remain stand in the current pantheon of gay pop star-penned musicals, what with Dan Gillespie Sells’ Jamie cleaning up in the West End? It, of course, remains to be seen; but watching this made me realise that Pet Shop Boys need to revive their still-underrated Closer To Heaven. The time, surely, is now for LGBTQ stories in all their impressive diversity.

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Until 16th Feb, tickets from £10 available here.

Main image: PR

Grab a copy of our latest print issue for a rundown of hot LGBTQ films to look out for this year. 


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