BWW Review: STOP AND SEARCH, Arcola Theatre
We're under a mountain - in the Mont Blanc Tunnel as it happens, but it might as well be the mountain of suspicion and hostility attendant on those Africans desperate enough to risk the perilous crossing to Italy and the journey on to England. We're with Akim, the quiet, bright black guy with a past that may or may not correspond with his story and Tel, the white guy full of coke, hate and anger, driving home with stolen goods.
Tel shouts a lot - which is in character, but hard on the ears in so small a space full of hard surfaces - and Akim tells us little, which is also in character, but is more than a little disappointing, as he's by far the most interesting person in Gabriel Gbadamosi important, but flawed play.
Later we meet two cops, one a clichéd bad apple who could have walked out of The Sweeney circa 1975 and another who has transitioned from female to male, though that decision and its impact on his policing role remain unexplored.
In the third scene, we're back with Akim (wonderfully played by Munashe Chirisa) who is now driving a cab in London and still very reticent, but still much more interesting than anyone else. His fare is Bev, who has connections to both Tel and one of the cops and plenty of secrets too.
There's a lot of meaty material here that plugs into all kinds of contemporary debate (Brexit, Immigration, Masculinity, Policing, London and a lot more), but it's all rather lost in a 90 minutes all-through marathon in which people talk but have few real conversations, their speeches more announcements of how they are feeling or what they are thinking. We don't really get to know anyone so it's hard to care for them beyond what they represent - problems rather than flesh and blood human beings. Exposition undercutting drama yet again.
An absence of humour and, with the exception of Akim and, to some extent, Bev (Jessye Romeo understandably struggling to find the right tone for a woman whose self-esteem appears to oscillate from one extreme to the other even within the same sentence), there's no empathy established for anyone - that's needed in a tight studio over an intense hour and a half.
And that leads to the deepest flaw in the play - that, despite the issues with which all five characters are struggling, I didn't really care how it turned out for any of them. Surely that was not the intention?
Photo Idil Sukan