Writer: Nessah Muthy
Director: Zoe Lafferty
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
In the 2016 Brexit referendum almost 60% of London voters elected to remain, and in response to the result, Mayor Sadiq Khan launched his #LondonisOpen campaign. He said ‘We don’t simply tolerate each other’s differences, we celebrate them.’ But when push comes to shove how welcoming are Londoners to foreigners? This play suggests that London’s hosting skills could be improved.
Set in Croydon, The National Youth Theatre’s The Host is a timely piece exploring how Brexit may affect how we deal with the continuing refugee crisis. Syrian refugee Rabea needs a bed and an address to make it easier for him to receive his biometric card, which will allow him to stay in the country legally, and when he gets beaten up by a xenophobic gang he finds an unlikely rescuer in fiery Yasmin. She gives him temporary shelter, and within a few days, she offers him her sofa. In return, he just needs to clean up the flat, but, as the set becomes increasingly messy, we realise that he’s not keeping his side of the bargain. The relationship between Rabea and Yasmin played by Zakaria Douglas-Zerouali and Rebekah Murrell is complex and believable. To let a stranger into one’s house may seem a selfless act by Yasmin, but she gains confidence and strength by having him around in her life. It’s a symbiotic partnership.
The tense and sometimes moving connection between the two leads as they discover what they have in common is played so well it is a shame that there is a parallel plotline involving Yasmin and her three sisters. One of writer Nessah Muthy’s aims is to create more roles on stage for working-class women, and while these roles are sorely needed, Yasmin’s three sisters and their story of their own housing difficulties distract from the secrets being unlocked by Yasmin and Rabea.
When the sisters stomp on stage with their demands of family loyalty the play does seem to edge into EastEnders territory and it was no surprise to learn that Muthy has written for the BBC soap. With their noisy swagger the sisters seem like cyphers rather than fully realised characters though Isabella Verrico plays Pearl with fine gusto and menace.
The Host would work better as a two-hander. The parallel narratives need not change, but they could be expressed through a series of confessions as the two leads drink and flirt upon the sofa. We don’t need to see Yasmin’s family dynamics; we just need to hear about them. There’s an urgent story to be told here and it would strike louder if there were only two voices.
Runs until 26 August 2017 | Image: Helen Maybanks