Review: Stop and Search at Arcola Theatre
PUBLISHED: 16:51 16 January 2019
Image licensed for press and publicity usage for the sitter, dependent on the accreditation to the photographer: Idil Sukan/Draw
‘Don’t be old, don’t be young, don’t be sick, don’t be black,’ is the brutal warning in Gabriel Gbadamosi’s new play that seems to promise an exploration of police stop and search tactics but is actually a study of fractured lives in a world under permanent surveillance.
The form of the play seems simple enough: three two-hander scenes staged on a minimalist set which figures, at its most cluttered, two car seats facing outwards. The lighting is dingy with only the occasional flash of a fluorescent road sign to illuminate the grim matter of the destinations of Gbadamosi’s disenfranchised characters.
In the first scene, wired truck driver Tel picks up refugee Akim and gives him a ride to the Calais ferry. Akim’s account of his journey is a familiar tale of overcrowded boats but his story doesn’t quite add up and his later description of a tanker catching fire on a motorway killing his wife and child also doesn’t convince. Is Akim even real or a ghostly figment of Tel’s rattled imagination?
In the second scene, the writing shifts into naturalism but the tone ultimately favours the heightened and comedic: two plainclothes policemen wait to ambush Tel who is driving home cargo far more troubling than any hitch-hiking refugee.
In the final scene, Akim works as a taxi driver who happens to pick up Tel’s former girlfriend and we realize that the play is more plotted than it first appears.
When it works Gbadamosi’s blend of registers is brilliant and director Mehmet Ergen’s measured handling of the poetic and supernatural dimension is electrifying. Munashe Chirisa is outstanding as Akim with his apologetic body language veiling a steely determination But often exposition overloads exchanges and the writing becomes too dense adding more layers rather than developing the initial ingredients. A transgender Good Cop insisting he feels free after years of tolerating the bigotry of men like his Bad Cop buddy Tone - played with flair by David Kirkbride – is a play in itself. Tel’s girlfriend Bev is thinly characterised but her impassioned lines about racial injustice ring out loud and clear.
Stop and Search continues at Arcola Theatre until February 9. For more details and tickets, click here.