Refugee Boy helps WYP to achieve a world first

Refugee Boy at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Picture: Keith Pattison.
Refugee Boy at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Picture: Keith Pattison.
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Refugee boy, Benjamin Zephaniah’s novel which was adapted for the stage by Lemn Sissay, opened at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2013 and was hailed a critical success.

The bittersweet tale of a 14-year-old boy from war-torn Africa who finds himself cast adrift in London comes across without sentimentality or preaching.

Reprised again last week for a couple of performances before setting off on a tour of the UK, Refugee Boy has lost none of its poignancy and is even more relevant considering the happenings in Syria in recent months.

One again in the role of Alem is Fisayo Akinade, who is superb. He portrays Alem’s innocence and naivety beautifully and you fall in love with him from the start, willing his ending to be a happy one.

Dominic Gately is mesmerising as he switches between characters. His portrayal of Sweeney, the twitchy young thug, is a revelation but he is just as believable as he dons a jacket and becomes the kindly Mr Fitzgerald, Alem’s foster father

The set, as it was in 2013, is very cleverly conceived. Made up of piles of suitcases that wobble alarmingly as the actors clamber around on them, the audience holds its collective breath, willing them not to topple.

West Yorkshire Playhouse achieved Theatre of Sanctuary status on January 27 , 2014, a world first, in recognition of its project to bring together refugee and asylum seekers’ charities and communities from across Yorkshire.

As well as staging Refugee Boy, it put together a series of outreach projects which opened up the theatre to those people seeking sanctuary in Leeds and Yorkshire.