At first glance, the set up for I Wanna Be Yours seems remarkably simple. Here is a boy and a girl, they want to love each other but things keep getting in the way. It’s a romcom, it’s romance and conflict. What is unexpected about Zia Ahmed’s play, however, is that the love story is only a window through which we can view cultural differences at their most raw. Ahmed has beautifully taken what we know and used it to explore a far more complex and searing relationship than I have seen onstage in a long time.
Anna Himali Howard’s direction is innovative and compelling. Around Ahmed’s lyrical dialogue, Howard weaves a world of physical movement which integrates British Sign Language and explores the true intimacy of the characters’ relationships without the need for them to share a single kiss onstage. The actors dance round the stage, express the visceral beauty of the play’s language with every movement of their bodies. Yet, at the same time, the moments of stillness allow for the story to breathe on its own.
While it is in the form that I feel the play truly excels, special mention should be given to each of the three performers. As Haseeb, Ragevan Vasan is filled with power and empathy. He gives a varied and physical performance, perfectly expressing all the anger, sadness and joy which Ahmed has given him. Emily Stott brings Ella to the stage with the same vigour. She is dynamic, bringing a quiet sincerity to the character while still whirl-winding through each beat onstage. BSL is entirely integrated into I Wanna Be Yours and the bulk of this is supplied by Rachael Merry, yet she is more than an interpreter. She is sometimes conscience, sometimes mirror, sometimes the physical expression of the feeling of Ella and Haseeb. Merry rotates at the centre of the onstage dynamic and it is beautiful to watch.
What this creative team have done is nothing short of spectacular. I Wanna Be Yours manages to be both challenging and cosy at once. It surrounds its audience in a warm world where playlists ring out and love blooms, yet it doesn’t disregard the difficulties of being with another person. It rails against racism while exploring it all within the crucible of a love story. What is especially brilliant about this, is that rather than exploring discrimination purely through anger, it explores it through love.
I Wanna Be Yours is touring the UK until 18 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Paines Plough website.