Theatre Review: ‘Custody’ by Urban Wolf & Tom Wainwright @ The Oval Theatre
Brian, a young man of Nigerian descent, is killed by the police following what was supposed to be a ‘routine’ stop and search.
The authorities’ insultingly mundane understatement ‘…There was a bit of a scuffle…’ is to suffice as explanation to Brian’s bereaved. The complexity of the grieving process is compounded by the wilful deception surrounding the circumstances of his death. Disbelief gives way to rage, loss of faith, bitterness, gallows’ humour and profound, unspeakable sorrow. Despite the verdict of unlawful killing at an inquest, the courts declare that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute Brian’s killers. Whilst his sister (Kiké Brimah) fights on, his brother (Urbain ‘Urban Wolf’ Hayo) scoffs at her efforts. Whatever low-lying resentment or sibling rivalry existed before Brian’s untimely demise is dragged to the forefront.
Devised by Urban Wolf, written by Tom Wainwright and directed by Gbemisola Ikumelo (recently seen in ‘New Nigerians’), the superbly-realised ‘Custody’ is already one of 2017’s theatrical highlights. It straddles traditional and experimental theatre with unpretentious aplomb. At times dialogue is chanted and delivered in a fusion of dance and performance poetry. This dramatic device is most often put to use as the cast recite the police’s diabolical ‘…scuffle…’ refrain. The voices in unison denote shared grief and memories. Brian belonged to no-one in particular and yet everyone who cared. Those left behind each assert the greatest claim of love for, and/or knowledge of, Brian; his fiancée (Sacharissa Claxton) most possessively of all. When the cast addresses the audience as if in conversation with the deceased, we are not merely invited to partake in their collective mourning; we are forced. There are star turns by all, yet it is Brimah and Hayo whose performances rend the heart.
Phil Newman’s stark mausoleum of a set is a doleful playground for Wainwright and Ikumelo’s ingenuity. The stage is framed by an outline of Brian’s head and bordered by the paraphernalia of candlelight vigils.
Whilst acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement, ‘Custody’ is not jumping on that particular bandwagon. Rather, it attempts to understand the narrative from a different angle. Hayo cites this as inspiration for the play…
“…The voices of the families of people who died in police custody have stayed in my head, haunting me and bringing me to tears. Staging their stories will allow more people to hear them and be inspired to do something to bring justice to these families…”
‘Custody’ is a gut-wrenching and terrifyingly brilliant exploration of where the personal and the public elements of these tragedies intersect.
Created by Urbain Hayo
Written by Tom Wainwright
Directed by Gbemisola Ikumelo
Assistant Director – Eddie Howell
Producer – Hannah Tookey
Set Design – Phil Newman
Movement Director – Cindy Claes
Composer – Dan ‘Sekrit’ Bilbrough
Kiké Brimah – Sister
Sacharissa Claxton – Lover
Karlina Grace-Paseda – Mother
Urbain Hayo aka Urban Wolf – Brother