Leave to Remain review: A gay musical with delicious intersectionality

Photo from Leave to Remain musical

Don’t be put off by the title—Leave to Remain is no onerous satire of Britain’s current Brexit debacle. No, Leave to Remain is actually a thoughtful queer musical that abounds in delicious intersectional representation.

The musical, written by Matt Jones and Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke, tells the story of a young gay couple whose whirlwind 10-month Shoreditch romance is upended by an unlikely marriage proposal. American Alex—played here by Billy Cullum—is in Britain on a work visa but, after his company decides to up sticks to Abu Dhabi, he’s left with the choice of going to the UAE alone, or find a solution to stay in London with boyfriend Obi (Tyrone Huntley).

Alex proposes to Obi so they won’t be separated. But the big question unfurls a myriad of painful secrets, familial baggage and even a wily, jealous snake in the grass.

For one, Obi has to contend with his traditional, devoutly religious Nigerian parents’ objection to his marriage, having years earlier ostracised him over his sexuality. Leave to Remain adroitly illuminates the difficulties of coming out and being accepted in minority communities in which homophobia—often rooted in religious beliefs—is more prominent than liberal white communities, like Alex’s. Jones and Okereke movingly ruminate on the patriarchal toxicity that festers in many BAME households; Obi’s father Kenneth (played brilliantly by Cornell S. John) refuses to accept his son’s sexuality—and even lies about Obi’s orientation to the local pastor to save face within the community.

Photo of the Leave to Remain cast.

The cast of Leave to Remain musical. (Helen Maybanks)

The idea of community and beady-eyed neighbours will be all too familiar for those of us who have grown up in tight-knit migrant communities where everyone is your auntie and uncle, and parents verbally joust over whose child got the best GCSE results. There’s a real authenticity to Obi’s family—also made up of his long-suffering mother Grace (Rakie Ayola) and sister Chichi (Aretha Ayeh)—that elevates this story into something truly special.

Leave to Remain‘s depiction of gay life in Britain, particularly London, is also well actualised—such as the unfortunate-but-overly-abundant drug use on the scene. On an ancillary level, perhaps there’s pause for thought about the vapidity of said scene, but Leave to Remain either refrains from casting, or fails to cast, any substantive social commentary on this.

Leave to Remain is full of humour and aching emotion, but it’s also full of music—naturally expected given Okereke’s day job. The beautiful blend of afrobeats and electronica that underscore the scenes are refreshing. Sadly, the original songs in this musical never really strike the same chord as, say, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soaring Hamilton oeuvre. The only song that reverberates post-viewing is the siren’s song of Arun Blair-Mangat’s temptress-in-disguise Damien.

Leave to Remain is at the Lyric Hammersmith until February 16.