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Stop and Search at the Arcola Theatre | Review

Tyler Luke Cunningham (Lee) credit - Idil Sukan
Tyler Luke Cunningham (Lee) credit – Idil Sukan.

Hercule Poirot once said that “It is a profound belief of mine that if you can induce a person to talk to you for long enough, on any subject whatever! Sooner or later they will give themselves away.” And, in his various cases, this has often proved to be the case. Conversations are a potentially dangerous thing, particularly when two people don’t know each other very well, because no matter how hard someone may try to conceal themselves, the longer they talk the more they are likely to give away. And conversations are at the heart of Gabriel Gbadamosi’s new play Stop and Search which has just opened at the Arcola Theatre.

In fact, three separate but linked conversations make up this 90-minute one-act production. The first takes place in a car under the driving through a road tunnel under the alps. Driver Tel (Shaun Mason ) has picked up a hitchhiker Akim (Munashe Chirisa) and is taking him through the tunnel with him. Tel, suspects that Akim is an illegal immigrant trying to get into the UK but isn’t that worried as his trip isn’t exactly legit either. Initially, Tel is fairly antagonistic towards Akim, and you do wonder why he picked him up, but as they drive and we find out more, Akim’s major role is to keep Tel awake and help him concentrate on the road.

The action now moves to Shooters Hill where two plainclothes policemen Lee (Tyler Luke Cunningham) and Tone (David Kirkbride) are on a stake-out. The two really don’t get on. Tone is a very old fashioned kind of copper whilst Lee has a much more contemporary attitude towards policing. This leads to some quite bitter arguments between the two. The two of them have been sent in case Terry, a supplier of firearms, turns up to his girlfriend’s place. As the tension builds, the two officers have trouble hiding their loathing for each other.

And finally, we meet Akim once more. Now driving a barely legal taxi, he is waiting to pick up hos fare, a young lady called Bev (Jessye Romeo) who wants to go to Elephant and Castle. Even though it is past midnight, she claims that she is going bowling in the alley above the shopping centre. As they drive, Bev reminisces on times gone by when she and her friends used to get cabs back home from the West End after a good night out. But, as the journey continues, she starts to open up more about her life and to give Akim a real understanding of why she wants to go and see the Thames.

Three interconnecting stories brought together into one play by Gabriel Gbadamosi. Unfortunately, for me, the overall story didn’t really work that well. The writing is very contemporary, and Gabriel pulls no punches in his characters use of profanity – particularly Tel. And this was, for me part of the problem. Some of the characters felt rather two dimensional. Tel struck me as someone that had watched ‘The Krays’ film way too much. He was confused in himself and not really coherent. Tone and Lee were a complete conundrum. Tone was very much a policeman that I thought had died out when ‘The Sweeney’ finished and, even after having read the playtext, I’m still not sure I fully understand who Lee is. However, whilst these characters did not resonate with me,.I really liked Akim and Bev. They worked both individually and together and, in fact, their scene together was the best of the three in my opinion. There was a naturalness in both the writing and the portrayal of the two by Munashe and Jessye that I connected with and wanted to know more.

Director Mehmet Ergen has a lot of space to work with but keeps things very simple – a couple of seats for the cars and that was about it. Daniel Balfour and Richard Williamson’s sound and lighting designs added nice elements to the overall story, especially in the opening scene – though given the number of times Tel took his hands of the car steering wheel, I was surprised they didn’t crash very early.

According to the playwright, Stop and Search “opens the question of why a tactic aimed at policing drugs, violence and terrorism (and that stops seven black people for every one white person) has grown into a flashpoint for wider, and deeper, flaws in a volatile and frightened social psyche.” On a personal level, I’m not sure that it achieved this and as the play drew to a close I did feel that maybe this was a missed opportunity to address a very important topic. The production though well put together, acted and staged just didn’t really work for me I’m afraid.

3 Star Review

Review by Terry Eastham

Where the lines blur between conversation and interrogation. Three conversations grow increasingly uneasy.

A new play by award-winning writer Gabriel Gbadamosi, exploring a time of distrust and our deep ambivalence about the ways we police each other.

The play opens the question of why a tactic aimed at policing drugs, violence and terrorism (and that stops seven black people for every one white person) has grown into a flashpoint for wider, and deeper, flaws in a volatile and frightened social psyche.’ (Gbadamosi)

Cast
Munashe Chirisa – Akim
Tyler Luke Cunningham – Lee
David Kirkbride – Tone
Shaun Mason – Tel
Jessye Romeo – Bev

Text – Gabriel Gbadamosi
Direction – Mehmet Ergen
Design – Eleanor Bull
Lighting Design – Richard Williamson
Sound Design – Daniel Balfour
Associate Director – Gemma Aked-Priestly
Production Assistant -Siar Kanik

9 January – 9 February 2019
Arcola Theatre in association with Maya Ellis present
STOP AND SEARCH
by Gabriel Gbadamosi
Directed by Mehmet Ergen
https://www.arcolatheatre.com

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