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Refugee Boy

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
A big red-brick inner city construction with towers of suitcases dotted 
across the stage becomes adventure playground, sanctuary and accidental 
prison for the fourteen year old boy at the heart of Lemn Sissay's 
stage adaptation of Benjamin Zephaniah's teenage novel. At times it 
looks like home, as Alem attempts to fit in with London's 
multi-cultural diaspora, from his foster family the Fitzgeralds to 
hyper-active bully Sweeney and his new best friend, Mustapha. At others 
it's as lonely as a prison cell, with Alem yearning for his own 
parents, caught in the crossfire of the Eritrean/Ethiopian war he's 
fled from.

 From flash-backs of Alem and his father gazing up at the North Star to 
a first experience of snow with the Fitzgeralds' daughter Ruth and 
discovering that very English chronicler of orphans, Charles Dickens, 
Alem embarks on an unflinchingly cruel  rites of passage. While the 
judgement passed by social workers and lawyers inspires protest, 
external forces make matters even worse.

There's depth and weight to Gail McIntyre's production for West 
Yorkshire Playhouse that takes its subject seriously while remaining 
thoroughly theatrical, as the cast of six navigate their way around 
Emma Williams' set. For all its impassioned heart and soul, there's a 
righteous but understated poetry that pulses through a street-smart but 
still fragile piece that never falls back on polemic. This is embodied 
in Fisayo Akinade's performance as Alem, who seems to grow in stature 
with each experience in a humbling and all too human play. Arriving at 
the Citz hard on the heels of  David Greig and Cora Bissett's Glasgow 
Girls, this is theatre at its most engagingly crucial.

The Herald, March 15th 2014

ends


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