Zia Ahmed brings his poetry to the stage in a powerful and imaginative debut – ★★★★

There is a literal elephant in the room when it comes to Ella and Haseeb’s relationship – sort of. With a small set in the Bush Theatre’s studio, the space – and indeed, the play itself – is far too intimate for a real one, with I Wanna Be Yours instead using the idiom as symbolism for the unspoken friction at the heart of the couple’s romance.

We know there’s an issue from the start. The pair are quick to misunderstand each other’s comments and backtrack before any damage is done – a panicked discussion around tongue-twisters (all of them impressively executed by Emily Stott) is an amusing early example. They tell us they kiss, but we never see such a connection on stage. As their relationship develops, more problems emerge. North collides with south, and Haseeb (Ragevan Vassan) experiences growing racial and Islamophobic abuse.

He reluctantly bites his tongue, in one of a few powerful pieces of imagery and magic realism beautifully signed by actress and British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter Rachael Merry, whose BSL is integrated into the performance. While it makes Ahmed’s writing all the more poetic, much like Mydd Pharo’s community hall-style set design, it feels underused. Only one line is signed by the other characters and although all three bounce off each other with amusing energy, the sign language could have been used more by Ella and Haseeb.

However, that is not to say that we don’t feel their chemistry. Not only do Stott and Vassan display remarkable rapport, but as one of them experiences conflict in their own life, the other sits with us and watches from the sidelines as a silent spectator. When together, under direction from Anna Himali Howard and Jennifer Jackson, they waltz and jump in a driving, rhythmic fashion – dancing in the face of division.

I Wanna Be Yours is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 18 January.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch I Wanna Be Yours for free in exchange for a review of the performance. I did not receive payment for this review. All opinions stated are honest and my own.