By Adam Rafferty
The joys and pitfalls of a contemporary mixed-race relationship is a wonderful subject matter for today’s youth to study, as they potentially find themselves having to navigate these issues in an ever-more multi-cultural Australia.
As part of the MTC’s Education & Families program, I Wanna Be Yours provides excellent stimulus for conversation around how two people can be so much in love, yet still find their relationship tested by the flames of societal and familial pressures around how they should behave and whether they should even be together.
Written by London-based playwright Zia Ahmed, and feeling very much like the reflection of a lived experience, the story is focused on Haseeb (Oz Malik), a North London slam poet of Pakistani extraction, and Ella (Eleanor Barkla) a Yorkshire actress. The pair meet when they work together to tighten up his performance skills. The chemistry is immediately apparent through Malik and Barkla’s utterly charming performances. It’s easy to see why Haseeb and Ella are so attracted to one another as these two actors bounce off each other’s energy beautifully. A special shout-out to Dialect Coaches Geraldine Cook-Dafner and Gurkiran Kaur for developing superbly accurate accents from their leads.
Haseeb and Ella tentatively begin to see one another, and over time all the usual relationship markers are hit. They mix in each other’s social circles, and integrate into each other’s lives, but it soon becomes apparent how difficult it is for Hasseb not to feel isolated in Ella’s world as so many white strangers mistake him for being a drug dealer, based on the colour of his skin.
But the power of love overcomes such tribulations and the couple work hard to make their relationship fit. Ella takes Haseeb to meet her mum, they navigate Eid and Christmas, almost all with comically awkward success. Over time though, the constant trials created by their differing backgrounds create the fantastic suggestion of an ever-growing elephant in the room. It’s a none-too-subtle metaphor but it definitely makes the point. The slow accumulation of cultural differences becoming apparent begins to take over more and more space in their lives.
This kind of tale has been told many times before, but in its contemporary London setting, featuring two very ‘of-the-moment’ characters, perfectly attired in Kat Chan’s colourful costumes, it feels like its target audience should be able to identify with, even aspire to be these people, and eagerly debate how they could have approached and worked through their issues differently.
MTC Resident Director Tasnim Hossain has elicited delightful performances from her two leads, creating lightning in a bottle through the sheer naturalism of their interlaced dialogue. And while there is much conversation between Ella and Haseeb, the play is somewhat of a duologue, often written as one of the pair narrating the story, and the whole tale broken into time-jumping vignettes. Hossain skilfully moves the action around the stage, over, across and through Kat Chan’s streetscape set designs to cleverly indicate the changes in location and emotion, aided by Rachel Lee’s subtly guiding lighting design.
It’s a great joy to watch a play like this, full of fresh, young talent, both behind and on stage; like getting a glimpse at the stars of the future. Malik’s sweet and passionate Haseeb and Barkla’s spirited, determined Ella have you rooting for their relationship to blossom, despite the foreseeably melancholic conclusion to Ahmed’s story.
Image: Tiffany Garvie