I Wanna Be Yours – Review – Leeds Playhouse
by Richard Mansfield, May 2022
Perhaps borrowing it’s title from John Cooper Clarke’s prosaically romantic poem of the same name, this play explores and examines the implications of love within what might be seen as the added ‘complexity’ of a relationship that is inter-racial. It does so with humour and sensitivity and addresses the ‘elephant in the room’ that seems, almost inevitably, to appear, despite the efforts of the featured couple themselves to avoid its presence, one which will have to be faced if the relationship is to succeed and the figurative pachyderm banished.
Zia Ahmed has written a poignant and yet fast-paced drama featuring northern lass Ella, played by Eva Scott, and south London Muslim Haseeb, played by Usman Nawaz, that is set in modern times. In what may be assumed to be a dual-centred relationship, Ella, an actor who has a Rochdale background, is now living in Hebden Bridge. Haseeb is a performance poet from, and living in, south London, which, in itself, perhaps teases the audience into some geographical stereotypical referencing, some that is rather lighter in tone than that reflecting the more serious issues elsewhere in the storyline.
Between them the actors exclusively carry the dialogue forward without any supporting cast and do so seemingly word-perfectly throughout the unbroken hour and thirty eight minutes of their performance and without appearing to miss-step in what are at times very brisk movements around the compact, yet simple set, one which is brilliantly and, at times very dramatically lit.
The dialogue comes fast, but not in an angrily furious way. Occasionally it is so quick that certain thought-provoking exchanges are gone in a flash and allow little time to ponder upon what has been said. Early on the use of word play and tongue twisting exchanges do suit such pace, but elsewhere a slackening in the pace might better enable some useful reflection. References which invoke stereotypical images are sufficient to make some of us wince at times and they particularly set the backdrop for scenarios when each character meets the other’s family. Angst for the couple feels to abound at such points and suggests that eggs, so cautiously trodden on, are too easily scrambled, not so much a crock of them, but more a minefield!
I Wanna Be Yours proves to be a play that humorously makes serious points. Absorbing in its delivery, the comfort of the characters with their script is evident. The impact of dramatically changing lighting, designed by Jane Lalljee, and the dynamic use of a simple structured set, by Warda Abbasi, ensure that the audience remains focussed. Challenging, it impresses as a play that will be appreciated and understood by an audience that is ‘aware’ and appreciates where we have come from, but where we can still carelessly slip up and offend.
Beyond the presentation itself, one thing that may be worth commenting upon, given that it is another feature of the relatively recent renovation, morphing and re-naming of the ‘West Yorkshire Playhouse’ into the ‘Leeds Playhouse’, is that the obscurely named new venue within the original building, the ‘Bramall Rock Void’, is a now exposed emptiness that was always there but had remained unappreciated and unused.
It offers a very intimate setting for audiences of around a hundred apparently and provides an intimate atmosphere. Not sure that it is the catchiest of names though. Perhaps it might attract productions with themes of space and time traveling!