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BWW Review: TYPICAL, Soho Theatre On Demand

Richard Blackwood is magnetic in this unsettling one-man show

BWW Review: TYPICAL, Soho Theatre On Demand

BWW Review: TYPICAL, Soho Theatre On Demand Thoughtful, poignant and insightful, Ryan Calais Cameron's play Typical debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe before transferring to the Soho Theatre in 2019. Shot there during the pandemic, this important and unsettling play is now streaming on Soho Theatre On Demand.

Former comedian and Eastenders actor Richard Blackwood plays a nameless man. He wakes, comments on the singing coming from next door, how his hair won't sit properly and that he is seeing his children at the weekend. He is going out that night and is in a good mood, singing and dancing along to his radio. What he is not aware of is that this is his last day alive.

He meets up with friends, then moves onto a club alone. Enjoying the atmosphere, the women and most of the music, our unnamed hero seems to be enjoying an ordinary night out. However, there are hints that all might not end well: a condescending bouncer, an awkward exchange with a white woman who only seems to see him as an exotic conquest. Then comes the violent assault from three racist thugs.

At the hospital, he is judged as drunk and aggressive, even though he is simply upset at not receiving appropriate medical attention. The police are called and he is arrested. At the police station, the situation quickly escalates into a horrific and violent conclusion.

If you are not aware, it comes as a shock when it is revealed that the play is based on the real-life case of Christopher Alder, a British-Nigerian ex-paratrooper who died on the floor of a Humberside police station while officers stood round. The original production ended with real-life CCTV footage of Alder's death. Here, there is a simple photographic dedication to him. The effect is less visceral but nonetheless very sobering.

Calais Cameron's rhythmic and lyrical monologue is unrelenting at points, but Blackwood handles it well, particularly the comedic asides. It's easy to imagine this ball of enthusiasm bouncing off the energy of a live audience, constantly chatting, joking badly and moving around the stage.

Calais Cameron gives depth to the character with details such as his pride in serving this "brilliant" country. He is confident, likable and therefore the resulting violence and the struggle to talk as the police brutality ensues are particularly hard to watch. The script narrates each action, so the every indignity and physical injury is detailed.

The title Typical suggests the character as a typical everyman out for a routine night. However, as a Black man, the casual racism he encounters could also be seen as all too distressingly normal and expected. What is interesting, and also poignant, is when "typical" becomes a stereotype. Being Black, he is seen as aggressive, causing trouble, not knowing his place, not really a man. And as an object, he is not treated as a human being.

Anastasia Osei-Kuffour directs this filmed version online, which feels properly cinematic. The shooting of the scenes in the police station is dynamic, going in tight on Blackwood's head as he fights for breath. Bathed starkly in the bright green-tinged light, the effect is uncomfortable and very moving.

Blackwood really holds the audience in this exploration of Black masculinity and casual racism in a piece that is a difficult watch, but a necessary one. More importantly, Typical gives back humanity to a real man who died in police custody and has never received justice.

Typical is streaming on Soho Theatre On Demand from 24 February

Photo Credit: Franklyn Rogers

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