This story of race, religion and purpose after the death of a young man in police custody, seen through the eyes of his loved ones is an example of idea over story, where a concept engulfs the narrative leaving the audience wondering why it should care. It is a common theme in recent theatre with the Domestic Violence in Whimsy and the issue of Welfare in Kicked in the Sh*tter , feeling like the story was an inconvenient distraction from the performance.
The show was created by Urbain Hayo (AKA Urban Wolf), based on his own stop and search experience and more extreme cases as shown in documentaries Injustice and Who Polices the Police with Tom Wainwright credited as the director. The set by Phil Newman is impressive, with a large black head silhouette dominating the stage but I did question the white tiled space, effective as kitchen in one scene it mostly looks like a public toilet and like many productions in small spaces it relies on the lighting by John Castle to make most scenes as effective as they are.
We begin with the death of Brian, a young black man who dies in suspicious circumstances after being stopped by the police. There were some fantastic performances from Mother (Karlina Grace-Paseda), who deals with her grief by feeling ashamed and worried about the lack of resolution for her son as he languishes in purgatory, his sister (Kiké Brimah) who wants to fight the injustice and encourage others to do so too and his Lover (Sarcharissa Claxton) in purgatory herself as she is not officially family and is excluded from a lot of decisions. All three female leads
Urban Wolf plays his brother, and I had a lot of issues with his performance as he seemingly worked best in his monologues to the audience, in fact, all the characters were at their strongest in this format. It seemed to be characters co-existing rather than cooperating and whilst this is often the case after a death it seemed stilted on stage and the choral speaking sections felt disjointed with some of the more dramatic moments.
There are some beautiful moments, such as Brian’s Lover moving on to a white man with ginger hair because he is less likely to be stopped by the police. It asks whether the IPCC is fit for purpose and it is a genuinely moving piece about grief and life after grief but the truth is the issue is important and relevant but when you begin with a conclusion and have a story that just isn’t tight and solid enough. When you start with such a dramatic conclusion you can never fully resolve the story, which is the point of the issue (black people are still being unfairly treated by the police and IPCC) it sadly doesn’t make a compelling narrative as the audience goes on a journey, which will never have a satisfying conclusion both on stage or elsewhere.
Custody is on until 8 April http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/detail/custody-by-urban-wolf
Tickets from £8