Filmed at the Hackney Empire , Safe is a verbatim theatre piece crystallised from interviews Alexis undertook with 4 young people who have benefitted from the fantastic support of the charity Albert Kennedy Trust – akt.
We look through the eyes of four very different Queer youngsters , but all with a common experience of rejection and abuse . The show opens with an electric performance by LaMont of Jimmy Somerville’s classic hit Smalltown Boy with its poignant lyric “ Run Away…turn away…. the answers you seek will never be found at home”. LaMont’s voice soars in anguish and beautiful determination.
Jack, born female , kicks off the narrative when he tells us “ I thought I’d grow the appropriate body parts as a boy . Next a young Nigerian boy Samuel , says he didn’t know the word “ gay “. He goes on: “ I thought I was the only guy attracted to boys . “ Alicia is next to speak – telling how the word lesbian was shouted at her at school.
Then it’s Tami’s turn . She came out aged 11 and her first sex was at the age of 12. “ I wore make-up at school- never at home, I wanted to be an attention seeker and it got me into trouble “.
And so we go back and forth between the four stories – as one character says of the revelation of their sexuality : “ My mother wasn’t loving when I told her “ . Another says: “ My dad said he’d put my head through the wall if I turned out to be a lesbian “. It’s hard to listen to, but it’s the reality of many teenagers whose families turn against them when they disclose their sexual identities.
Tami , a trans woman who reveals she is self-medicating in her transitioning has a particularly tough life – in foster homes where she is shown anger and abuse . It’s equalled by Alicia’s desire to be accepted as a lesbian, a rejection that leads her to serious alcohol addiction. Jack is kicked out by his mother after incidents of abuse. “ I felt I was trans but the people I told were very negative “ . Samuel is living with his deeply religious Nigerian family who try and pray his gayness away. They bathe him in something called the water of life to disperse his homosexuality but as he bravely says: “ God would’ve changed me if he’d wanted to .. so I accepted who I was”. In the end he leaves his London home to avoid being taken back to his homeland “ to change him”.
Alicia’s downward trajectory brings her hallucinations, headaches, nausea and insomnia . All her bank cards and ID are taken away to stop her buying alcohol. “ I struggle to put things in the right order,” she tells us in sad resignation.
Jack, embarked on a course of testosterone , is very clear in his mind: “ I was attracted to men and I feel male..that’s what I’ve got to do – it just made so much sense . I found transitioning really easy and exciting “. Meanwhile Tami has become destitute , as she graphically says: “ no income, no benefit for six months, no bed, no food “ .
Each of the quartet eventually comes into contact with akt and their lives start to change , getting care , help with somewhere to live and someone looking out for them for the first time in their lives, it seems.
And in the final scenes, it’s clear that they are all keen to tell their stories to help others and to bring a spotlight on this problem where a quarter of homeless or at risk young people are LGBTQ+.
It’s easy to forget that this is not a work of fiction, but the brilliantly committed and natural acting of all four cast members brings the whole issue alive in front of us and makes it hard to avoid. So hats off to Taofique Folarin as the gently, smiley ,slightly naive Samuel, to May Kelly as the tough as nails Alicia; Mary Malone as the resilient trans Tami , and Elijah Ferreira as the cheeky trans man Jack .
And three cheers for Alexis, who directs with sharpness and poignancy . Oh and we need to hear more of LaMont, a Pride’s Got Talent winner who needs a full-blown musical showing.
Safe is online till 3 May at
More information about the charity at akt.org.uk