They say that love conquers all. And in many cases, it does. But sometimes love is not all you need for a relationship to be a successful one. It needs work, honesty, having each other’s backs, and speaking out when things don’t sit right. Especially when it comes to an inter-racial relationship. And as much as you might think you are being accepting and culturally sensitive to your partner, unconscious racism can still play a huge part.
The latest offering by the Melbourne Theatre Company explores all of these themes and more with the debut play from London’s Zia Ahmed titled, ‘I Wanna Be Yours’.
Ahmed is more than just a playwright; he is also a Poetry Slam Champion and he brings this style into this production with full force. Centred around two young lovers of different cultural backgrounds; Haseeb, portrayed by Oz Malik, a British-Pakistani Muslim living in London, and Ella, portrayed by Eleanor Barkla, a white girl from Yorkshire. Not only are they of different cultures, but they are also from the North and South of London.
There are many aspects to this production that I related to. The easiest callout would be that I, a White Male, am married to a Person Of Colour. I have been with my partner for more than 12 years and whilst I would like to think that I am more in-tune now than I was before, there is always more to learn and accept with other cultures. ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ dives headfirst into these issues and displays the different types of racism that Haseeb faces on a regular basis. From stereotypically assumptions based on ones looks, to the so called ‘unfairnesses’ of a religious choice not to drink alcohol at a party.
I found myself being frustrated at what was happening to Haseem. But I was also angry at Ella for how she was acting. Wanting to ‘be prepared’ for situations when she was exposed to Haseem’s culture. Yet, at the same time, didn’t stand up in defence of Haseem when her own family or friends were conducting themselves either consciously or unconsciously racist. The narrative addresses the elephant in the room of all these situations quite literally. But you’ll just have to see the show to find out how.
The two characters swing in and out of dialogue and narrative style, mixed in with the punchy attitude that slam poetry provides. I was never lost as to when the characters were talking to each other or speaking out narratively. And whilst this production is not a musical, there is most definitely a beat, a melodic dance of spoken word. Adding to this style is the cleverly constructed sound design by Mufeez Al Haq that is perfectly paired with the dramatic lighting by Rachel Lee. This harmony of poetry, sound and light seamlessly shift between narrative and dialogue, as well as the light and dark moods of the story.
In addition to the aforementioned light and sound, the set was just as impressive. Whilst minimal, it was highly effective. Designed by Kat Chan, who also designed the costuming, the stage is set as three separate miniature scale buildings. Each of them is used to shift both the mood and narrative, cleverly depicting a different location as the story progressed. Whether it be climbing over them, meandering around them, or simply sitting or lying on top of them, these miniatures almost became additional characters to the play.
With great direction by Tasnim Hossain, the minimal set and small stage at Southbank Theatre’s The Lawler leaves nowhere to hide for Malik and Barkla. Both are absolutely incredible in their roles with their chemistry natural and believable. I was empathetic to Malik’s portrayal of Haseem, both through his words and body language. Barkla is highly emotive, and whilst I did not agree with the character’s frustrations, I could still feel them. And with such a unique style of spoken word, this talented duo should be commended for their delivery of Zia Ahmed’s incredible work.
‘I Wanna Be Yours’ is a smart and incredibly powerful piece of theatre. Zia Ahmed’s style is one that I have not experienced before, and I am grateful that I got the chance to see it. I hope that you take the opportunity to see this production too. There is always something new to learn about being culturally sensitive and accepting of others. Perhaps with seeing this production, you might learn something new as well.
Melbourne Theatre Company’s ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ is playing now at Melbourne’s Southbank Theatre, The Lawler and is running until the 27th of May. If you get the chance, check out their Forum Night on the 22nd of May with a Q&A after the show.
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Photography by Tiffany Garvie.