Review: Rights of Passage

A harrowing performance with a sprinkle of hope, based on true stories.

asylum-seeker Cambridge Cambridge drama Cambridge Theatre Corpus Playroom LGBT rights of passage

The dimly lit Corpus Playroom is a fitting setting for Rights of Passage, as the small room creates an intimate yet fearful backdrop. Hamed, Miremba and Izzuddin – the main characters – arrive separately on stage, each followed by a pair of actors who handle them violently.

Each of their stories is both harrowing and real: Hamed (Abbas Khan) is a gay man fleeing persecution (and potential execution) from Iran, whose trials do not end at the British border, as he struggles to convince the Home Office that he is a gay man in need of refuge. Miremba (Hethvi Gada) is a lesbian living in Uganda, who is forced by her family to marry a man and, in the process, give up her relationship with another woman. Izzuddin (Alex Franklin) is a gay Malaysian man who receives a scholarship to study in the UK, but his scholarship is in danger of being revoked once his sexuality is exposed.

The distinctive voice and portrayal of each one of the main characters made the characters appear unique and real: Miremba was portrayed as passionate and emotional, reflecting her overwhelming experience of entrapment and invisibility in a homophobic country; Izzuddin was shy and often stuttered; Hamed's responses and voice were raw and real, reflecting both his exciting and terrifying experiences. The ensemble's acting is generally done well, especially the ability of the ensemble cast (Michelle Spielberg, Yingtong Yan, Josh Marchant, Eve French, Teddy Mack) to act a wide range of roles, from being violent prison officers to sensual lovers.

Abbas Khan (Hamed) and Joshua Marchant (ensemble) rehearse an intimate scene. Photo credits: Emma Hall

Abbas Khan (Hamed) and Joshua Marchant (ensemble) rehearse an intimate scene. Photo credits: Emma Hall

The use of monologues reinforces the very personal stories in the play, coupled by actions of violence or love that intensify the actors' words. These monologues are based on transcripts from real interviews: the play really allows the voice of marginalised LGBT+ refugees to be heard. The use of sudden and intense violence, screaming behind close doors and darkness served to heighten the horror of what the characters underwent. I also enjoyed the use of physical visuals to depict the entrapment of the characters.

Although the play as a whole was amazing, there were one or two small things that I felt ambivalent about. I wasn't quite sure about what effect the sound of an alarm was supposed to produce and the use of lawyers' speeches dispersed throughout the play, explaining points in the legal system, could have been integrated more seamlessly with the plot.

The cast rehearse a scene of entrapment. Photo credit: Sneha Lala

The cast rehearse a scene of entrapment. Photo credit: Sneha Lala

However, none of these small problems detract from the importance of the play. The play both illustrates the horrific ordeals LGBT+ individuals in homophobic societies endure, and informs the audience about the legal and social situation regarding LGBT+ people in various countries. Furthermore, I am glad to see the lives of LGBT+ people of colour being portrayed on stage, as it is not something I often see (although it should be something I see more often), even though the stories portrayed in Rights of Passage are not the happiest.

Although their stories are at times terrifying, there are also glimmers of hope as characters find acceptance and new love. I would recommend this play due to its importance on educating viewers about human rights struggles LGBT+ individuals face and the actors' engaging performances. However, I would like to warn you in advance that this play contains unpleasant scenes involving violence, abuse, homophobia and mentions of suicide.

Rights of Passage is on until Saturday 21 October and 50% of the profits will go to Oxfam.

4/5 stars