sat 15/06/2024

Stop and Search, Arcola Theatre review - a murky view of modern-day Britain | reviews, news & interviews

Stop and Search, Arcola Theatre review - a murky view of modern-day Britain

Stop and Search, Arcola Theatre review - a murky view of modern-day Britain

Three interconnected stories struggle to add up

Road trip: Shaun Mason and Munashe Chirisa in 'Stop and Search'Idil Sukan

A road tunnel through the Alps, stretching underneath Mont Blanc: Tel (Shaun Mason) is ploughing home to London in a borrowed Merc, strung out and sleepless and having been to see his other girl in Monte Carlo. The Arcola Theatre premiere of Stop and Search finds this white van man incarnate returning to his trouble and strife with a bizarre cargo of beaver hats in the back. 

The opening scene of Irish-Nigerian playwright and poet Gabriel Gbadamosi's latest play finds two men in the front of Tel's car as the explosive loudmouth drives dangerously toward the Channel in the rain. His companion is a hitchhiker, Akim (Munashe Chirisa), who has the look and language of an African migrant and is heading for the crossing with a passport that doesn't belong to him. Their pairing provokes a spectacular clash of opposites in this first of the play's three parts. Mason, as Tel, pitches at full volume and is suspicious of and abusive towards his passenger, but a bond forms between the two men  an affection, one soon realises, between outcasts. 

Munashe Chirisa in 'Stop and Search'Akim is paying his way across Europe with gold teeth and possesses a lovely gentleness in the face of Tel's quivering rage; as played by the Zimbabwe-born Chirisa (pictured right), he's got the philosophical attitude of a mystic wanderer, complete with stories of loss. And so it is that the tables very quickly are turned: soon it is Tel who is out of place, off-balance, dangerous and not the ostensibly illegal immigrant in the passenger seat. Tel is convinced that Akim will get caught at the border whereas Akim is just trying to keep the car and its driver on the road. 

Gbadamosi has said that he wants to explore a changing Britain in this play, which has been directed in the venue's Studio 2 by the Arcola's own artistic director, Mehmet Ergen. In a country where police stop and search seven black people for every one white, it is the caucasian Tel, holding himself up as the stalwart Briton, who is increasingly suspect; Akim, the outsider, is the gentle voice of reason and perhaps not an immigrant at all.

At the moment where we leave their story, Stop and Search starts to falter. Along comes another mixed-race, ill-matched odd couple in the middle section of the play's 90 minutes, this time set in London. Tone (David Kirkbride), a bullheaded plainsclothes cop with a serious prostate issue, has gunplay on his mind and a dangerous criminal in his sights. His unwilling sidekick for the night, Lee (Tyler Luke Cunningham), is a gentler, gender-fluid policeman of an entirely different disposition and ends up the recipient of Tone's wierdly obtuse abuse. David Kirkbride and Tyler Luke Cunningham in 'Stop and Search'Gbadamosi is pitching here for the same dramatic clash of personalities and culture, with Kirkbride and Cunningham (pictured above) labouring mightily to convince but not quite persuading. The third and final scene returns to Akim, now a minicab driver, with Bev (Jessye Romeo) in the back for a ride to Elephant and Castle.

Chirisa's performance is outstanding: his pauses, expressive eyebrows, gift for sympathy and sorrow. But the writing asks Akim to play the subordinate to a much less interesting confession from Bev. A dramatic thread pulls the sections together but too loosely: something fundamental about Stop and Search comes to a halt once its opening sequence has reached an end. The provocative assault intended on issues of race and justice remains in search of a play to contain it. 

The outsider turns out to be the gentle voice of reason and perhaps not an immigrant at all


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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