by Benjamin Zephaniah adapted by Lemn Sissay.
West Yorkshire Playhouse (Courtyard Theatre) Playhouse Square Quarry Hill LS2 7UP To 30 March 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm no performance 29 March May Tue 1.30pm Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 26 Nar 7.45pm.
Captioned 28 Mar.
Post-show Discussion 27 Mar.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 0113 213 7700.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 March.
Rough-edged, poetic, energetic drama.
Thanks to Lemn Sissay, Benjamin Zephaniah’s novel has migrated to the stage, where it’s more welcome than Alem, sent abroad by his parents to escape war in Ethiopia and finding his battles against non-acceptance are a matter of words and fists rather than guns; British and African conflicts can both occur at knifepoint.
Alem (whose name means ‘worlds’) finds a foster-home with the Fitzgeralds, whose daughter is at his school, though he wants to return to his parents. No-one is entirely at peace here. In a Children’s Home Alem meets Mustapha whose eventual friendship is expressed by coming clean about his father’s disappearance, while the bully Sweeney who calls him Refugee Boy as an insult has his own painful secrets behind his fists. The Fitzgeralds, being Irish, aren’t quite at home and their daughter Ruth mourns the disappearance of a previous fostered boy.
With two poets involved, Refugee Boy is understandably sophisticated in its use of language. Economy of expression and Alem’s discovery of street-speak contrast the formal court sentences (in both senses) and the more consciously poetic moments of Alem‘s emotional confusion. Eventually, he asserts the name Refugee Boy, not as an insult but an assertion of identity.
It’s matched by Gail McIntyre’s production, on Emma Williams’ set, uneasily incomplete or dilapidated surfaces, even a tablecloth temporarily accommodated on a corner of a raised floor, but with a romantic skyscape for a star-spangled refrain. Apart from the formal, static court scenes there’s restless movement or argument; between scenes cast-members walk about, bringing or taking props.
In the strong cast, no performance is more restless than Dominic Gately’s Sweeney, ever-mobile, verbally injecting words into the air, unpredictable and evoking inner emotional turbulence. It’s a fine performance, especially when contrasted with his hard-pressed but ever-trying Fitzgerald.
As his daughter Ruth, Rachel Caffrey charts a teenager’s move from feeling marginalised by the newcomer to genuine friendship. And Fisayo Akinade’s Alem is, in his earnest wishes to learn and do well, the nearest thing to a still centre, even as it becomes clear his hopes of restoring his former life are becoming fainter.
Alem: Fisayo Akinade.
Ruth: Rachel Caffrey.
Mr Kelo/Hoodie: Andrew French.
Mr Fitzgerald/Sweeney/Mr Hardwick: Dominic Gately.
Mrs Fitzgerald: Becky Hindley.
Mustapha/Soldier: Dwayne Scantlebury.
Director: Gail McIntyre.
Designer: Emma Williams.
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth.
Sound: Jonnie Khan.
Projections: Mic Pool.
Movement: Lucy Hind.
Dramaturg: Ben Jancovich.
Associate director: Natasha Betteridge.