sun 14/07/2024

Nine Lives, Bridge Theatre review - engaging if slim finale to ambitious solo season | reviews, news & interviews

Nine Lives, Bridge Theatre review - engaging if slim finale to ambitious solo season

Nine Lives, Bridge Theatre review - engaging if slim finale to ambitious solo season

Sparky solo play leaves you wanting yet more

Starting over: Lladel Bryant as Ishmael in 'Nine Lives'Richard Lakos

Call him Ishmael, and the Zimbabwe-born, UK-based writer Zodwa Nyoni has done just that. That's the name of the solo character in Nyoni's slight but undeniably affecting 50-minute solo play Nine Lives, which caps a season of monologues at the Bridge Theatre that has functioned as so much cultural balm in these parched times.

First seen in Glasgow in 2014 and later at London's Arcola, Alex Chisholm's production serves as a de facto companion to the Bridge season's similarly themed An Evening with an Immigrant, since that is precisely what Nine Lives offers, as well. 

"It is traumatic to be an immigrant," we're told by Ishmael, who is warmly embodied by Lladel Bryant (pictured below), the Yorkshire-based performer who has been with this project all along. And so it clearly is, starting with an interrogation upon arrival into the UK where the gay Ishmael is asked to prove his homosexuality: what does a penis feel like, the authorities dare to ask him, even as he is soon eking out an existence in Leeds on £32.62 a week, legal fees included. 

Self-admittedly "broken", Ishmael has abandoned a home country that can't sanction his sexuality only to find himself geographically and psychologically adrift in his new habitation, where casual racism, petty thievery, and the risk of deportation loom. An unexpected lifeline of a sort is proffered by a single mum and her young son whom he meets in a park, noting along the way the acknowledgment written in stone of Leeds' favourite son Alan Bennett, who of course is a favourite son of Nicholas Hytner's Bridge, too.

Inua Ellams's self-penned, directly comparable play, extended at the Bridge to 7 November, has the advantage of being ripped from firsthand experience, whereas Nyoni's piece seems both to rush certain details (the entire thing could benefit from an added beat or two) and of rooting its acute analyses in reportage as opposed to the actual front line of life. Still, all but jumping out of his clothes, Bryant communicates a restless, inquiring spirit that won't be ground down by an abusive father back in Africa or the English byways of bureaucracy. And when he dons a pair of sparkling stilettos as if readying himself for the catwalk, his yearning request to "let me be me" is sure to follow all but the most churlish of playgoers out into the night.


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