Of the many recorded offerings during lockdown, Zodwa Nyoni’s play about a gay immigrant has been a highlight. Now this beautifully written, politically urgent piece has a short run as part of Nicholas Hytner’s season of monologues. And, Nine Lives is even better in real life.
The power of Nyoni’s writing was clear on the screen. Her character of Ishmael involves us in his struggle in a moving way while retaining a sense of humour. The issues around gay rights and immigration, looking at Ishmael’s past as well as life in his new home, are deftly handled.
Nyoni’s sophistication becomes all the more powerful when seen in person. Benefitting from this chance to see the show in a theatre is director Alex Chisholm, whose careful work is even more obvious. And gaining most is the show’s star Lladel Bryant. It’s fantastic to see Bryant hold a stage (and The Bridge is a big space) with such ease, drawing his audience in and making us care so much. And laugh too – moments when Bryant takes on extra characters that Ishmael meets have a magical charm.
Nyoni’s text has the refrain “some of us…”, calling forth lives other than Ishmael’s on to the stage. It serves as a reminder of the dangers fled from and the treatment of people in need of help. Reminders of group identities and responsibilities are why it’s so important to see Nine Lives with others; to have witness born in public, in front of an audience is something theatre offers that screens cannot. Community runs through the play and that is something best experienced together.
Until 31October 2020
Photo by Adam Robinson