REFUGEE BOY: adapted by Lemn Sissy from the novel by Benjamin Zephaniah
Runs: Birmingham Rep to 12 04: Touring
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, Bham Rep
Engaging and humane, open your heart to it.
Benjamin Zephaniah’s novel, and this adaptation of it, have a naive quality. This is far from meaning it’s not good; it means the apparent absence of style or technique gives it both honesty and power.
After some opening scenes which hold us at bay (could they be revisited I wonder?) we are eventually drawn into this story of a boy, Alem, from Eritrea, left by his father in the UK. Alem we learn is mixed race, and vulnerable because of border fighting. Alem enters ‘the system’ and the story is the story of his battle for survival. What is so strong about the story is that Alem is surrounded by much goodness . . . but, the novel / play asks, is this enough? There is no conclusion to the piece, for conclusions happy or otherwise might lead us to believe there are easy answers to the question.
Gail McIntyre’s staging employs much music and within Emma Williams’s set, the play is lively and the action moves around fluidly.
Young Alem is created with a warm humanity by Fisayo Akinade. There’s a strong sense of ensemble and much doubling. This is expertly done, particularly since adults must lose many years to tell the story; their down-ageing becomes part of the delight. None more so than in Dominic Gately’s double as nasty bully Sweeney and very kind-hearted Mr Fitzgerald.
Gail McIntyre keeps it all bubbling along nicely. REFUGEE BOY teaches us small things, but significant ones; and it certainly touches our heart, and that’s a pretty important thing.
Alem: Fisayo Akinade
Mr Fitzgerald / Sweeney: Dominic Gately
Mrs Fitzgerald: Becky Hindley
Mustapha: Dwayne Scantlebury
Mr Kelo: Andre Squire
Ruth / Lawyer: Sarah Vazmar
Director: Gail McIntyre
Designer: Emma Williams
Lighting Designer: Malcolm Rippeth
Sound Designer: Ian Trollope
Movement Director: Lucy Hind