I Wanna Be Yours review – a love story with heady chemistry

Bush theatre, London
Ragevan Vasan and Emily Stott star as a couple pulled apart by their backgrounds in this play by slam poet Zia Ahmed

The question of how to build intimacy across the divides of our supposedly multicultural society is both urgently topical and achingly familiar, as demonstrated by Zia Ahmed’s neat three-hander at the Bush’s studio theatre. Ahmed, a London-based poetry slam champion, avoids look-at-me poetics in a wise little story about a Yorkshire actress (Ella) and a Muslim poet (Haseeb) who fall in love after she is hired to brush up his performance skills.

The challenge of the piece is to expose social cliche without succumbing to it, and by the time Haseeb is mistaken for a drug dealer for the third time, I was beginning to fear the worst. But gradually it becomes clear that repetition is precisely the problem. Whether he is clubbing or childminding, white strangers will always misjudge Haseeb on the basis of his skin colour; he in turn will forever feel alienated by the rooms full of white faces with which his choices – both of partner and of vocation – confront him.

At first, the couple are too swept up in love’s young dream to care but, as Ahmed makes clear, all relationships exist in a social sphere. Through the black comedy of awkward family encounters – on Haseeb’s side as well as Ella’s – they are increasingly unable to ignore the surreally inflating elephant in their bedroom: cultural difference.

Ragevan Vasan, Rachel Merry and Emily Stott.
The ingenious use of sign language amplifies the farce of miscommunication ... Ragevan Vasan, Rachel Merry and Emily Stott. Photograph: Richard Davenport

While the storyline is unsurprising, the execution is exquisite. Anna Himali Howard’s bare-stage touring production for Paines Plough and Tamasha makes ingenious use of sign language to ironise and amplify as well as to translate. Rachael Merry, the BSL signer, becomes a third person in the relationship, flitting gracefully between the couple. Her mobile features mirror the emotions they cannot own, while her hands dance out the farce of miscommunication and social embarrassment.

It is a very clever device that creates the illusion of a wider society, freeing Ragevan Vasan and Emily Stott to concentrate on the interiority of the relationship between sweet, ardent Haseeb and passionate, defiant Ella. Initially, they seem an unlikely couple. But as they circle each other and the stage, buffeted hither and thither by tiffs and reconciliations, a heady chemistry develops between them that makes you yearn for their romance to survive, even as you suspect it won’t.


Claire Armitstead

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Remains of Logan Dankworth review – a poet for our day
Luke Wright’s eloquent verse monologue pairs Brexit with the breakdown of a marriage

Arifa Akbar

31, Jan, 2020 @1:07 PM

Article image
Lydia Towsey: how I discovered the Venus in me
From Botticelli to glossy magazines, women have been idealised and misrepresented for centuries. Performance poet Lydia Towsey reveals how her own near-fatal eating disorder set her on a path to explore new ways of looking at female bodies

Lydia Towsey

30, Aug, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
'I needed a new home': how Debris Stevenson left Mormonism for grime
Her musical Poet in da Corner brought raving to the Royal Court. Now the writer and performer is exploring first love. She talks Mormonism, trauma and teen dreams

Arifa Akbar

06, Nov, 2019 @3:41 PM

Article image
Jellyfish review – love, fear and glimmering magic in Skegness
There is tenderness and humour in Ben Weatherill’s play about a young woman with Down’s syndrome caught between her boyfriend and her mother

Arifa Akbar

03, Jul, 2018 @8:58 AM

Article image
Strange Fruit review – Caryl Phillips’ immigrant family feel the heat
Nancy Medina directs a slow-burning story of a family caught between two cultures in 80s Britain

Michael Billington

18, Jun, 2019 @11:05 AM

Article image
Wysing Polyphonic review – explosions in the sonic inventing shed
Moor Mother and Paul Purgas curate an inspirational gathering where electronic artists, dancers and poets freely test the boundaries of expression

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

02, Sep, 2018 @11:50 AM

Article image
‘It’s a love letter to adventure’: the mud-spattered show about jogging
Inspired by a 90-mile run to the Peak District, These Hills Are Ours explores the joys of trail running – then invites its audience out for a jog

Adharanand Finn

06, Jun, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
Going Through review – migrant's words flow freely across borders
This gently uplifting play about child migration – performed in English and beautifully signed – delights in language

Miriam Gillinson

09, Apr, 2019 @3:42 PM

Article image
The Arrival review – fraternal reunion pits nature against nurture
Bijan Sheibani’s writing debut about two half-Iranian brothers relies on a puzzling backstory, yet vivid staging and beautiful performances fill it with vitality

Michael Billington

26, Nov, 2019 @11:00 PM

Article image
An Adventure review – epic journey through Mau Mau-era Kenya
In Vinay Patel’s ambitious, highly personal new play, a young couple leave India in search of a better life

Arifa Akbar

12, Sep, 2018 @11:59 AM