Produced as part of the National Youth Theatre’s East End Season, The Host is a new play written by Nessah Muthy, tackling the refugee crisis, poverty and race. With its talented young cast, inspired writing, and dynamic direction from Zoe Lafferty, the show is a great example of how difficult subjects can be tackled with humour and emotion.
Yasmin’s (Rebekah Murrell) sisters are struggling to make ends meet – Natalie (Jesse Bateson) cant repay her loan, Hayley (Taylor Keegan) has been forced to take time off work, and Pearl (Isabella Verrico) has taken up three jobs just to pay the rent. For them the answer is simple: Yasmin needs to move back in with them. Just scraping by with two jobs of her own, she doesn’t think that’s a good idea, and when refugee Rabea (Zakaria Douglas-Zerouali) appears on the estate without a place to stay, things get complicated. Yasmin agrees to host him, but how can she agree to help a complete stranger when her own family is in despair?
The urgency of the play is felt from the onset as the opening scene is a heated argument between sisters Yasmin and Natalie. The actors fire back and forth and each other, and it’s hard not to be immediately drawn in. Muthy’s writing is dynamic and fast-paced, but it never feels rushed. The ensemble is excellent on stage and they do complete justice to the text. In particular, it’s a pleasure to watch Murrell in action. She bursts on and off stage like a ball of energy and has glorious comic timing, yet it’s deeply moving to watch her in some of the stiller scenes.
Lafferty’s direction leaves the performers exposed, and even when they’re not in a scene, they still appear in the view of the audience – observing the action, sometimes scrutinising the characters’ choices. We’re forced as an audience to always be aware of the other characters even if they’re not actively a part of the action, which emphasises the play’s themes of poverty and displacement. Although there is no conclusion that draws everything to a close, the ending is still satisfying. You’re expected to ponder and consider what has been presented, and hopefully continue the discussion elsewhere.
Muthy looks at race within one family and draws parallels between Rabea and Yasmin that help us consider ourselves in relation to others, those who are strangers and those in our families, and what it even means to be English. In an ocean of post-Brexit plays talking about race and immigration, The Host stands out with its exploration of otherness in a clever and nuanced way, and with a genuinely talented cast.