Review: Safe, Hackney Empire (online)

Alexis Gregory’s critically-acclaimed production Safe, which features stories of homeless and at-risk LGBTQ+ youth, could not be more relevant. The show, which was originally performed at the Soho Theatre, London Theatre Workshop, Norwich Theatre Royal and Reading Rep, has been reimagined in digital form and is based around the startling statistic that 25% of all homeless and at-risk youth identify as LGBTQ+, with the figure likely to increase with the recent pandemic.

This powerful piece of verbatim theatre weaves together stories of four homeless and at-risk LGBTQ+ people that Gregory met through the Albert Kennedy Trust (akt), and is an incredibly timely and compelling watch.

Filmed at the Hackney Empire, Safe combines spoken word with Yrsa Daley Ward’s poetry and live music and opens with a performance from Pride’s Got Talent winner LaMont, who covers Bronski Beat’s Small Town boy. The audience is then introduced to four individuals. Jack (Elijah Ferreira) was born female and had to deal with his family refusing to accept his new identity; Tami (Mary Malone) is a trans woman who has had a tough time growing up in foster homes; Alicia (May Kelly) has battled alcohol addiction as she struggled to be accepted as a lesbian; while Samuel (Taofique Folarin) lives with his religious Nigerian family who refuse to accept he’s gay. Though the four have very different stories to tell, they have all endured hardship and abuse from the people closest to them.

Alexis Gregory’s direction, along with slick cinematography from Mann Bros and Mike Robertson’s bold lighting results in a polished production which is both hard-hitting and incredibly moving in its discussion of abuse and homophobia. A particularly clever effect is the varying camera angles coupled with quick edits when the action intensifies, helping to heighten the tension. And with the four actors all telling their stories directly to the camera, there’s no getting away from what they have to say.

Elijah Ferreira, Taofique Folarin, May Kelly and Mary Malone all give strong performances, and this is very much an ensemble show. All four are incredibly natural in front of the camera, and are believable in their portrayals as they draw the viewers in; so much so that there are times when you forget these are stories from real people. Safe is a raw and heart-wrenching production right from the very start, but it’s when all four come together at the end that it’s most moving. As they discuss their lives now and how they got through terrible times, the mood becomes more uplifting and there’s certainly a strong message of hope and survival for anyone going through anything similar.

A bold and powerful production with a message of hope at its heart, Safe is certainly essential viewing, and a reminder to be kind to others. We could all learn a lot from this show.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

To watch Safe visit https://hackneyempire.co.uk/whats-on/safe/

Photo credit: Jane Hobson

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