Rights of Passage takes honesty to new heights of brutality’Ed Bankes

Intimate to an almost uncomfortable extent, Rights of Passage gives a voice to those who society has too often tried to silence. Through direct testimonies from three LGBT+ asylum seekers, we are given an authentic insight into the challenges they face, both in their home countries and in the UK.

Miremba (Hethvi Gada) is a Ugandan woman forced to leave her girlfriend and enter an abusive marriage. Hamed (Abbas Khan) is an Iranian man who must flee his home, where the punishment for his sexuality is death. Izzuddin (Alex Franklin) is a Malay student whose scholarship is revoked after he is reported for being gay. Though they come from different nations, different religions, and different backgrounds, all three of the principal characters share a common desire: to be free.

“Director Sneha Lala’s captivating production simultaneously horrifies and entices us”

Lines are generally delivered directly to the audience, rather than in the form of dialogue between characters, adding a layer of personal involvement to the theatrical experience. The candid demeanour of the actors, coupled with the small size of the venue, enables us to quickly feel as though we know the characters on a personal level, with Alex Franklin’s performance particularly notable for his ability to convince me in under five minutes that Izzuddin and I were lifelong friends. Even during some of the most distressing scenes I couldn’t bring myself to look away, so intense was the connection created between the characters and the audience.

‘Even during some of the most distressing scenes I couldn’t bring myself to look away’Emma Hall

With a script composed mostly of genuine stories from asylum seekers, this play acts as a reminder that reality really is darker than fiction. The performance – slightly under two hours long – has a very high density of hard truths. Perhaps most importantly we are forced to acknowledge that oppression does not end upon entrance to the UK, and that this nation, with its use of immigration detention centres and inappropriate and often discriminatory questioning, has been guilty of denying certain people the basic human dignity to which we are all entitled.

“A delicate balance of hope and horror is skilfully maintained throughout”

It can be easy, especially given much of the media coverage of the current refugee crisis, to forget that asylum seekers are complex individuals whose lives are not exclusively defined by their suffering. Despite the seriousness of the play’s subject matter, the lighter, more humorous scenes are among the most touching and humanising, with a particular favourite of mine being the characters’ first experiences of clubbing.

A delicate balance of hope and horror is skilfully maintained throughout the performance, with tales of violence and oppression interspersed with anecdotes of childhood and love. Hethvi Gada does an impressive job of evoking the excitement of meeting Rita – the childhood crush who sparked Miremba’s discovery of her sexuality – and the rush of joy associated with first love capable of overwhelming the terror of existence in a world where you cannot dare to reveal your identity. I’m sure most of us, whatever our sexuality, had our own ‘Rita’, though thankfully rarely in such a dangerous atmosphere.

Rights of Passage takes honesty to new heights of brutality. It’ll certainly make you feel slightly sick at times, but if your stomach can handle it, this play is unmissable

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