Nine Lives to perform at the Bridge

Life in 2020 is an interesting rollercoaster of surprises. Occasionally those surprises are pleasant ones. It is with very great delight that we can announce that our production of Nine Lives by the phenomenal Zodwa Nyoni performed by the stellar Lladel Bryant will be performing at The Bridge theatre in London from 22nd to 31st October 2020.

For more information and to book tickets click on this link:

For information on the measures taken by The Bridge to make sure all audience members can attend safely please click on this link:

Nine Lives tells the story of Ishmael, a gay man from Zimbabwe fleeing for his life, who becomes an asylum seeker in Leeds. The situation in the UK for refugees and asylum seekers is no easier than it was in 2014 when this play started and in many ways is harder. We will be working again with the charities UKLGIG and City of Sanctuary to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and raise money.

Thank you all for your support that has got us this far. Hope to see as many of you as can make it in London.

Posted in Nine Lives | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nine Lives Livestream


It has been a 4 years since we last presented Ishmael’s story – his life as an asylum seeker in Leeds – and now feels like the right moment to share it again. Do have a watch and if you like it please share, tell your friends, and donate to one of the charities below.

This performance of Nine Lives by Zodwa Nyoni, performed by Lladel Bryant, and directed by Alex Chisholm, was livestreamed from the Arcola Theatre London on 29 January 2016 by Upstart Theatre. Presented by Leeds Studio in Association with Leeds Playhouse


The sharing of Nine Lives has now finished but do watch this space or follow us on Twitter @LeedsStudio


Fleeing from his home where a fresh wave of homophobia threatens his life, Ishmael has sought sanctuary in the UK. Dispersed to Leeds, Ishmael waits to hear his fate, he waits for a new life to begin amongst strangers. But not everyone is bad… can he find a place to call home again?

If you’ve enjoy this performance please donate to:

UKLGIG – supporting LGBTQI+ people through the asylum and immigration system Donate Here 

Or Black LGBTQI+ Therapy Fund Donate Here

This performance will be live until 20th July 2020.

Some of us wanted to stop being afraid.

Some of us wanted to find ourselves.

Some of us wanted to belong.


Posted in Nine Lives | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chisholm for President… A new musical sharing

Popping back on here to let you know that we will have a sharing of current work-in-progress ‘Chisholm 72’ on Friday 22 November 1pm at Leeds College of Music. It’s about Shirley Chisholm, first Black Congresswoman who ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972. Shirley is the clearsighted, fierce, passionate woman warrior for justice that we need today. The musical is being created by two of Leeds own brilliant warriors for justice Zodwa Nyoni  and Testament . We’re working with students from Musical Theatre course of Leeds College of Music, the performing talents of Flo Wilson, Dermot Daly, and Justina Aina, and the musical talents of Michael Lovelock, Neil Innes, Nick Svarc, and Isaac Heywood. We’d love you to come see what we’re making – drop me a line on if you want to come along.



Posted in Shirley Chisholm, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A new story…

Hello again,

I wish I could say the world had taken a turn for the better in the two or so years since I last posted on here. But it hasn’t has it…

As I write we’re teetering on the edge of who knows what in Brexit-land, news of a fresh atrocity perpetrated by white, far right terrorists comes from around the world, and more hate and division continues to be spoken from our politicians, our media, our screens.

What can we do?

One thing (but by no means the only thing) we’re doing is going back to the wise words and strong examples of the Black women leaders in history. One such woman was Shirley Chisholm, first Black congresswoman and the first woman to run for the Presidential nomination of the Democratic party. If you’ve not read her autobiography ‘Unbought and Unbossed‘ I strongly recommend it. Every word stands out as a clear-sighted judgement of the corrupted political system and embedded racism and sexism of politics, the consequences of which as so evident today. The world would be better if we had listened to Black Women.

We’ve commissioned Zodwa Nyoni, writer of Nine Lives, and Testament to start work on a new piece about Shirley Chisholm. It’s very early days but we’re excited about where this is going. Testament has been awarded an Opera North Resonance residency to do some work on it and we’ll be doing a small work in progress sharing in Leeds on 5th April. If you want to come along drop me an email on

Posted in Shirley Chisholm | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nine Lives – last chance to see

It has been a long and eventful journey we have been on since we first did Nine Lives in May 2014. I don’t think any of us would have guessed the world looks the way it does in in November 2016.

All along the journey we have been moved and inspired by the incredible people who have supported us and shared their own stories. Stories of looking for safety, finding friends, looking for home.

We are now taking Nine Lives out on tour for what might be last time in UK (never say never). Do spread the word if you can. We’d love even more people to see it. And we’d love more than anything for you to get to know and support the fantastic work done by our friends at UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, City of Sanctuary , and Platforma.

We have been supported in this tour by the brilliant House network and to share the love a bit more we’re donating to UKLGIG the equivalent of fee for one show. We want to do what we can to support people like Ishmael in the play, who are seeking sanctuary from persecution.

So come celebrate with us at one of our shows, the good things that can happen when people connect, the difficulties that break us apart, and, yes, ‘the hope to piece it all together.’

Tues 22 Nov 7.30pm

Corn Hall, Diss  01379 652241


Wed 23 Nov 8pm

Sheringham Little Theatre, Sheringham  01263 822347


Thur 24 Nov 7.30pm

Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead  01628 788997


Fri 25 Nov 7.30pm

The Hat Factory (studio), Luton  01582 878100



Wed 30 Nov 7.30pm

The Phoenix Theatre and Arts Centre, Bordon  01420 472664


Thur 1 Dec 8pm

The Stage Door, Southampton  02380 711818


Fri 2 Dec 8pm

Bridport Arts Centre, Bridport  01308 424204

Posted in Nine Lives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nine Lives – New Trailer

Hugely excited to be taking Nine Lives back on tour from 27th September. Have a look at the NEW TRAILER we’ve made.


Posted in Nine Lives | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nine Lives nominated – Vote for Us!

So much is going on with Leeds Studio and Nine Lives at the moment – we barely have time to write about it! (like going BACK ON TOUR from 27th September)

More news coming soon but in meantime Zodwa Nyoni’s Nine Lives is nominated for a prestigious Alfred Fagon Audience Award. There are SO MANY brilliant plays on this list that we feel like winners already but please do vote for us! We appreciate it and will send you warm thoughts and virtual hugs.

You can vote here and voting is open until 16th October.


Posted in Nine Lives | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Tour Dates for Nine Lives


We are very pleased to say Nine Lives, our now critically and audience acclaimed show by Zodwa Nyoni performed by Lladel Bryant, will be touring again this Autumn, presented by House.

We kinda wish it wasn’t so but this story of a young gay asylum seeker from Zimbabwe is even more relevant than when we first started performing it, all the way back in 2014. Nine Lives combines insight, humour, and humanity to tell the real story behind the headlines.

Have a safe and peaceful summer everyone. We’ll see you in the Autumn.


Tue 27 Sept 7.45pm

Stratford Circus Arts Centre, London  020 8279 1080


Wed 28 Sept 7.30pm

The Place, Bedford  01234 354321


Thur 29 Sept 7.30pm

The Old Firestation, Oxford  01865 263990


Fri 30 Sept 7.45pm

Key Theatre, Peterborough  01733 207239


Sat 1 Oct 7.30pm

The Cryer, Sutton  020 3771 9317


Sun 2 Oct 7.30pm

Marlborough Theatre Brighton  0800 411 8881


Tues 22 Nov 7.30pm

Corn Hall, Diss  01379 652241


Wed 23 Nov 8pm

Sheringham Little Theatre, Sheringham  01263 822347


Thur 24 Nov 7.30pm

Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead  01628 788997


Fri 25 Nov 7.30pm

The Hat Factory (studio), Luton  01582 878100


Sun 27 Nov 7pm

The Observer Building, Hastings  07813 03 55 14


Wed 30 Nov 7.30pm

The Phoenix Theatre and Arts Centre, Bordon  01420 472664


Thur 1 Dec 8pm

The Stage Door, Southampton  02380 711818


Fri 2 Dec 8pm

Bridport Arts Centre, Bridport  01308 424204


Posted in Nine Lives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nine Lives goes to Paris

Our production of Nine Lives by Zodwa Nyoni, performed by Lladel Bryant will be part of the programme of the first Paris Fringe Festival. We are performing at Les Feux de la Rampe on 24th and 25th May. If you are in Paris, can get to Paris or know anyone in Paris please do come see the show!

If you are a refugee charity in France or LGBT organisation and think we can connect or support you in any way please get in touch.



Posted in Nine Lives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Stories Matter

This is a slightly edited version of the presentation I gave at the Symposium on Arts, Academia and Asylum at Arcola Theatre January 2016 organised by Alice Mukaka, for University of East London, in association with Leeds Studio.

In the end, it was a photograph that did it. I’ve been working with refugees and refugee organisations for three years and in that time a large part of the conversation has been about how to raise awareness, how to engage the empathy of a British public who, with very notable exceptions, seemed indifferent or openly hostile to people seeking sanctuary in our country or at our borders.

Then that photograph happened. The seemingly sleeping body of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi washed up on the shore of Turkey grabbed hold of the public imagination in a way that thousands of statistics never had. The outpouring of outrage, sympathy, support and love was extraordinary; in the next few weeks a quarter of people in the UK donated something, money or possessions, to refugees.

Stories matter. It is the story that we see through a single image. A child who could be our child. Who could be us. This moves us in the way that facts and figures don’t. Although I remain deeply conflicted about the use of that photo and vehemently disagree with anyone using it now, it undeniably had a huge effect at the time.

Stories matter. There are millions of refugee stories. The largest refugee crisis since WWII cannot be contained in a single image. Soon after that, we had the kickback: they can’t be ‘real’ refugees if they are not Syrian; look they are young, strong men, how could they be fleeing persecution. The Syrian crisis is a particularly present issue, driving millions away from their homes (95% of whom are in just 5 countries next to Syria – Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Jordon). But there are many reasons why men, women and children are driven away from their countries to seek safety elsewhere. It is a universal right to seek asylum. Everyone deserves to have their story fairly heard.

Our play, Nine Lives by Zodwa Nyoni performed by Lladel Bryant, tells the story of Ishmael, an asylum seeker in Leeds. It tells the complex story of being moved through the asylum system, of being made powerless and anonymous, of being met with hostility, and with love, from the native population, of an already traumatised man being re-traumatised by a system designed to deal with you as a problem not as a person. It also tells the particular story of a gay asylum seeker from Zimbabwe. The story of LGBTQI asylum seekers is that of a minority within a minority. Until recently it was practice to ask asylum seekers to ‘prove’ their sexuality, or to tell them they can go home and ‘live quietly’. The enormously high burden of ‘proof’ means that the UK refuses 99% of all asylum claims based on sexuality on first application.

We started this production in 2014. I was then Associate Director of West Yorkshire Playhouse and had applied, and among fierce competition, got Zodwa Nyoni on a Channel 4 Residence at the theatre. As part of the residency I commissioned her, along with Oran Mor in Glasgow to write a one-act play for A Play, A Pie and A Pint. Zodwa came up with the title and the idea. It was inspired by a friend of hers, an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe who was dispersed to Leeds and living in a shared flat in an Armley tower block. It came from her observation of him looking out over the city but unable to take part in the life he saw there. As she was researching the stories of young, male asylum seekers she came across a blog called Free Movement about the experience of a young bisexual asylum seeker and the kind of questioning he had received. That was the starting point for Ishmael’s story.

The play doesn’t tell you the statistics. It doesn’t tell you all the details of Ishmael’s case or even its outcome. It connects you to him as a human being. It reminds you that everyone going through this experience is a person, an individual with his or her own hopes, dreams, histories and stories. Not as some very unhelpful commentators and politicians would have it: ‘cockroaches’, ‘vermin’, ‘swarms’. To quote my favorite review from Tim Bano in Time Out: ‘Ishmael’s is only one story, but that’s the point: it’s his and his alone. He’s not a swarm anymore. He’s human.’

The course of this production has charted the course of the issue of refugees in the public consciousness: to begin with few outside of those actively involved really knew or cared about the issue. Then suddenly the issue broke into public awareness, a paradigm shift of such magnitude it can only be that the knowledge, the awareness was there all along, waiting for permission to become conscious. Some of the volunteer organisations we knew struggled to keep up with the volume of donations and vehemence of the ‘debate’. Such an almighty change in public opinion that it even had hitherto intransigent government promising to take 20,000 Syrian refugees. A still inadequate reaction to the situation but showing the change happens, mountains do move. Yet as if to prove for every action there is a reaction, immediately following the attacks on Paris we saw a sudden swing the other way in media and in politics. In just hours following, even we started picking up negative, worried or aggressive comments on social media, some of which we could engage with, some of which we couldn’t. Now in 2016, with 32,000 people having arrived in Greece in one month alone, what story, what stories are being told matters more than ever.

Through it all it has felt important to tell this story, of Ishmael and the other characters of the play. Because his story is of one of the most vulnerable, and often overlooked, the LGBT asylum story is often that of the ‘excluded by the excluded’ as the play says. As his individual story, it stands for all the individual stories, not just of all asylum seekers, but all of us. Nine Lives connects us to all of the characters, and all of the characters to each other. We each have our own, inalienable humanity, each worthy of respect and acknowledgment.

I was asked in a post-show discussion while on tour were we not only preaching to the converted. That the lovely theatre audience is likely to agree with us already. Well yes, and no. Over the life of the production so far we have played to great variety of people – those going through or who have gone through these experiences, those with a great deal of knowledge of asylum, those with very little. What the play does is bring Ishmael’s story to life, and those of the people he meets, who may accept or reject him, and why. What we then do is offer simple practical ways people can get involved whether that is reading more information, donating to a charity, joining in a local group. In many places we have been working with refugee artists and arts activities with refugees and asylum seekers. Just at this run at the Arcola we have been very privileged to display the work of Bern O’Donohugh; Platforma and Counterpoints Arts are presenting three gigs of refugee and migrant musicians and poets; and we’ve raised money for UKLGIG through a fundraising Gala. Through touring we can reach a few 1000s of people. Not big numbers but any way we can get these stories out matters. And in drama no one had to die to tell them.

Stories matter. Not just to the ones who didn’t know the story but to the ones to whom the story belongs. In Swansea one man approached our actor Lladel after the performance, ‘Thank you for your story’ he said. Lladel explained it wasn’t actually his story. ‘But it is mine’ he replied ‘Everyone should hear this story.’ Everyone wants to be seen, to be understood, to be a person. People seeking asylum have had everything taken from them, their dignity, safety, their own sense of self. Taking part in arts, singing, playing, drawing, dancing, telling stories gives back that sense of self, that sense of connection to other human beings. Seeing your story reflected on stage can do the same, you have been seen, understood, acknowledged. If the play was to have a message, it would be that hope lies in the human connection between people, whoever they may be.

Your stories matter. Both your own personal story – who you are and what you want to do, what has led you here and what you will take away with you. And the stories that you tell in your work and in your life. All of us tell stories, in your research, through narratives, through arguments, evidence, statistics, through arts or pictures or enabling others to tell their story themselves. By doing the best we can, by doing what we are best at, we can make these stories have an effect on others, and affect the world we live in. And we can have more of an effect by working together – not by trying to be something we are not but using what we do to best advantage. I’m best at directing and producing plays – by doing this play and collaborating with academics, artists and organisations we have raised money, debate, awareness and given a platform for refugees to perform. We may have only shifted the world a little bit, but shift it we have.

Stories have power, the stories we tell transform us. Stories can take flight, change the mind of a government, change the mood of a country. The stories that are told and the people who get to tell them matter because they shape our understanding of the world. Let’s tell all the stories that we can.

Alex Chisholm

Photograph by Richard Lakos, of Lladel Bryant as Ishmael in Zodwa Nyoni’s Nine Lives

Posted in Nine Lives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment