Custody at the Ovalhouse

‘Another black man dies in police custody.

Apparently no-one is to blame.’

So goes the tagline of the newest production to open in South London’s Ovalhouse, a simple tag line that brings forth tension and drama, however the rest of the play falls just short of the mark unfortunately.

The play is centered around one family’s reaction when 30 year old Brian, a son, brother and fiance, dies during what should have been a routine traffic stop.  Leaving the audience asking the questions: ‘what went wrong?’, ‘Why was he even pulled over in the first place?’, and ‘what can be done to bring the police to justice?’.  We follow his mother, sister, brother and fiance as they learn the horrific news, and discover how it shapes their life moving forward.  

The play begins with group movement, repetition and physical theatre that sadly just screamed A-Level drama class.  This beat-poetry-style beginning missed out on some of the power that it could have achieved if it was allowed to stand alone, without the puppet-like movements, which distracted from the emotion and harsh reality of the text.  
The actor’s performances started off a little unrefined, but thankfully this improved greatly when the group movement was left behind and they relaxed into the play.  By the halfway point the performances had all improved greatly, as the actors really came into their own.  Each had moments of strength that allowed them to show their true skill.  There was some genuine laugh out loud moments here that were well paced to break up the darker moments and draw out Brian’s personality as seen in the eyes of his loved ones.  There are some moments of power, the use of ‘it’ within the police statements for instance.  This dehumanisation, although hardly subtle, created a build-up of tension which could have been explored in more depth.  

The set design was particularly well conceived, especially for a small black-box style theatre.  The modern and abstract set really shone out as one of the better parts of the play, setting moods as well as physical space.  

Watching life continue after such a painful tragedy was eye opening but I was constantly left wishing it took it all the way.  Unfortunately, key moments of drama and tension were left un built upon, so I was left feeling a little flat.  Braver decisions could have been made to really push the envelope here, instead it was left with an ok performance, but not a great one.  


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