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Safe – Hackney Empire

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Director: Alexis Gregory

Bronksi Beat’s Smalltown Boy, a hit in the 1980s, tells the story of a boy who has to leave home when his parents kick him out. This ground-breaking song is reimagined at the start of Safe, a verbatim show about homeless and at-risk LGTBTQ+ people, and singer LaMont brings special attention to the line ‘the love you need will never be found at home.’ For Jack, Samuel, Alicia, and Tami growing up, home was a place filled with fear.

Before Tami transitioned she told he mother that she was gay. Tami knew the news would go down badly, but she wasn’t quite expecting the punch in the face. Alicia battled with alcohol to such an extent her mother told her to leave, worried that it was causing too much stress to the other family members. Jack’s mother couldn’t understand her child’s transition from female-to-male while Samuel’s father believed his son’s gayness to be shamefully un-African. As a result of these conflicts all four young people became homeless.

The term ’homelessness’ may lead to images of sleeping bags and cardboard boxes in front of shop doorways, but there are many other forms of homelessness; couch-surfing, or staying in hostels or B&Bs. For LGBTQ+ people, staying in large hostels can make them vulnerable to homophobic attacks, both verbal and physical. Fortunately, Jack, Samuel, Alicia and Tami were all helped by AKT, a charity that supports LGBTQ+ young people who have become homeless.

Filmed at the Hackney Empire, actors now speak the words of the four young people who were interviewed about their experiences. Elijah Ferreira gives Jack a stubborn optimism that helps him be able to forgive his family for its failings. As Samuel, Taofique Folarin is a delight, clearly showing Samuel’s excitement in attending his first Pride, or going for an interview to get into university. His energy is infectious.

May Kelly is Alicia, strong and phlegmatic, objectively talking about the seizures and collapses which are caused by the drinking and which take her to hospital. Tami is played by Mary Malone, and is brittle and tough, vulnerable and fiercely independent, getting hormones off the internet to help with her transition. The four actors completely inhabit their characters, especially Malone, to such an extent that it’s hard to imagine that Jack, Samuel, Alicia and Tami are not playing themselves.

The constant switching between characters, along with various different camera angles, ensures that the 60 minutes doesn’t drag, and under Mike Robertson’s lights, Safe looks stunning too. Despite all their hardships and troubles, these young people don’t want to be pitied; instead they just want to be seen, heard and, above all, be safe.

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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