Nine Lives review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘compassionate and engaging’
Poet and playwright Zodwa Nyoni researched this gentle, affecting monologue by speaking to people at a drop-in centre for refugees and asylum seekers. The play that resulted from these conversations tells the story of Ishmael, a young man forced to flee his country on account of his sexuality. Now living in Leeds he’s trying to make sense of his new life, to retain his dignity and sense of self within a system and a society which seems to be doing its hardest to strip him of these things, to make an un-person of him.
Originally staged at Oran Mor in 2014, and coming to London following a tour, Alex Chisholm’s production is simple – the stage bare save for a single suitcase – but it has a quiet power. Much of this comes from Lladel Bryant’s engaging, affable performance. He’s a warm, lively presence and has a real facility for voices, shifting easily between characters as he populates Ishmael’s world. His burgeoning friendship with a young single mother is tenderly drawn by Nyoni, a small moment of hope, of connection. In fact the play as whole feels like a plea, for empathy and compassion, and to remember that behind the headlines there are people, each with their own story to tell.
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