If you’re a lover of plays, pies and pints, then it’s well worth popping along to the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s new aptly named ‘A Play, A Pie and A Pint’ programme, which does exactly what it says in the title: it offers audiences the chance to see some new, work-in-progress theatre while enjoying a tasty pie and a refreshing pint of your favourite drink. Originally conceived by Oran Mor in Glasgow, and now in its second season at the Playhouse, I got the opportunity to see writer Zodwa Nyoni’s Nine Lives, a monologue focusing on the life of asylum seekers in Britain today. And before I saw it, I did of course enjoy a pie and a pint.
Both the food and beverage part of the programme were pretty good, but they were nowhere near as good as Nine Lives. Nyoni’s monologue really brought the audience face-to-face with contemporary issues such as immigration and discrimination, following in the footsteps of the Playhouse’s earlier production of Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy. It follows the story of asylum seeker Ishmael, played by Lladel Bryant, who is dispersed by the Home Office to Leeds, where he meets a variety of characters who represent the differing attitudes towards immigration in the country today.
Nyoni’s writing is captivating, allowing Ishmael to convey to the audience powerful imagery of an unknown land, in this case Leeds, and the excitement of exploring it. She sets up a world that is honest and natural, where its inhabitants are those we meet on a day-to-day basis. Bryant brought the character of Ishmael to life with energy and enthusiasm, offering the audience a humorous yet painful look into what it’s like living a life standing in the shadow of fear and anxiety.
The monologue’s power was further enhanced by the lighting. A single light bulb hanging from the ceiling created a dark and moody atmosphere that contrasted perfectly with Nyoni’s character, alluding to the contrast in views towards immigration policies in society today. Floor lights were also used to cast ominous shadows on the back wall of the Playhouse’s Barber Studio, emphasising the emotions of the character and adding to the dark atmosphere even more. In the incredibly intimate performance space, director Alex Chisolm had Ishmael really connect with the audience. His warm, honest and funny character established a bond with them right from the start of the piece, and had the audience laughing and staring in awe at Ishmael’s story.
Nine Lives is a cracking piece of theatre that offers a glimpse into an issue that’s present in the country and around the world today. I’m sure that it won’t be long before it’s developed even further and taken around the UK to provide more audiences with the same glimpse, and make us ask questions about the attitudes towards asylum seekers and immigration in the country today.
Nine Lives was part of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s ‘A Play, A Pie and A Pint’ programme. For more information on upcoming productions in the programme, visit the West Yorkshire Playhouse website.