Stop and Search – Review

Images Idil Sukan.

From the title alone I was expecting a gritty drama about the effects on a generation of young people who have grown up with the police’s controversial policy of stop and search.

After all, London’s black community is targeted more than any other and the initiative has caused bitter resentment among ethnic groups who say they are being unfairly targeted.

Surely that was going to be the theme of Irish-Nigerian poet and playwright, Gabriel Gbadamosi’s, visceral work, Stop and Search, which opened at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre this week?

“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,” he claims in the production’s publicity.

But it’s not. What I watched on Monday night has less to do with stop and search and more a jumble of thoughts and ideas thrown up in the air and left to sort themselves out into some semblance of a play.

At 90 minutes long, straight through, the audience should be gripped but I found myself clock-watching.

For the first 30 minutes Shaun Mason’s small-time criminal, Tel, screams and rants, a torrent of abuse and aggression pouring out of his vile mouth.

Tel is driving back from a trip to Europe when he picks up Akim, a young man travelling with a stolen British passport who hopes it will be enough to get him into Britain.

Of all the cars in all the world, it was probably the worst decision of Akim’s life. He could have thumbed a lift from a nice HGV driver, or a family returning from holiday.

But no, he gets Tel. Foul-mouthed, bigoted and hostile, Tel doesn’t let up for a second.

Tel has only picked him up to help him keep awake at the wheel and to have a distraction from his claustrophobia while driving through the seven-mile long Mont Blanc Tunnel.

The quiet, dignified, humble Akim (Munashe Chirisa giving a nicely subtle, nuanced performance), spends most of his time diffusing his driver’s hysteria and anger before he’s finally dumped at the roadside.

In the second of three scenes we meet two cops on a stakeout, waiting for Tel to show. Good cop and bad cop, neither in any way realistic.

“Bad” cop, hot-headed Tone, (David Kirkbride) is a walking, two-dimensional cliché, straight out of The Sweeney, and burdened with a dodgy prostate, an itchy gun-finger and a wild look in his eyes.

His partner isn’t any better. Fast-track detective, Lee, used to be a woman (and is played by transgender actor Tyler Luke Cunningham) but is now sporting a beard and an allergy to guns and violence.

No disrespect to Tyler but Lee looks about as useful in a fight with a hardened criminal as my granny.

Over the course of about another 30 minutes, any tension and atmosphere generated by the opening rapidly dissolves as we endure Tone’s regular piddles in the corner of the stage and listen to the pair discuss policing methods circa 2019.

Actually, no. They don’t discuss. Like the passive-aggressive opener, Lee stands around with his hands in his pockets while his gung-ho partner spouts off about transphobia, modern policing, and anything else that gets up his nose.

Stop and Search ends with Akim, now called George, driving a London minicab and picking up a woman who – what are the odds? – just happens to be the girlfriend of Tel.

Sure, there’s a thin-blue line connecting all six characters but there’s little interaction and no depth. The dialogue is loud and in-your-face, a stream of consciousness from Gbadamosi rather than any purposeful conversation.

The music, lighting and even set are stark and jarring. The whole, uneven, production feels like an outpouring of anger rather than a play with something coherent to say.

The only time it comes close to the playwright’s original concept is when the girlfriend, Bev, wallowing in grief and self-pity, comes up with the tired and thrown away line: “Black skin don’t fit..not with the police”.

Disappointing.

Stop and Search runs at the Arcola Theatre until February 9.

Stop and Search
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Summary

Incoherent and disappointing, Gabriel Gbadamosi’s new play, Stop and Search, at London’s Arcola Theatre, is angry but unfulfilling.

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