Review: Stop and Search, Arcola Theatre

Gabriel Gbadamosi’s topical play looks at the points of view from each end of today’s society, with characters Akim (Munashe Chirisa), a refugee, and Lee (Tyler Luke Cunningham), a transgender police officer, and pairing them with those that hold ignorant views like Tel (Shaun Mason), a loud-mouthed Londoner, and Tone (David Kirkbridge), a police officer with questionable morals. As you can imagine, sparks fly and things get uncomfortable. Gbadamosi discusses police brutality, the corruption and ignorance which run through the force and the negative portrayal by the media of refugees, to name but a few.

Chirisa’s captivating portrayal of a refugee simply trying to survive is the standout moment of the night, his description of the loss of his family creating an emotional performance which bubbles at the surface of all of his interactions, the thought of them in everything he does and says. His softness is a direct contrast of Mason’s jarring Tel, who is a physical embodiment of well-known outlets such as the Daily Mail – harmful rhetoric and stereotypes galore.

The minimalistic design in all aspects works well within this production. The first scene is set in a car and Mehmet Ergen, the play’s Director, chooses to scrap miming the driving once this action has been established, and instead uses two free standing car seats (Eleanor Bull- Design), lighting to represent the brake lights of other cars (Richard Williamson– Lighting Design) and motorway sounds (Daniel Balfour- Sound Design). The energy hinges on these details, each element working together to bring this world to life. The simple projection of the setting at the beginning of each scene immediately tells us where we are, contributing to the driving pace in these quick and fluid transitions.

Unfortunately, what is proving to be a hard- hitting piece fails to deliver an ending with any lasting effect. One could argue that that is the point, that after all the drama, life still goes on. I think, however, that this could be classed as grasping at straws to justify a flat closing scene.

Gbadamosi’s take on the differing views in society has a good point to make- just because you are a citizen; it doesn’t make you a better person by rights. A good person is defined by their actions, not by their title or where they are from, a statement still so hotly debated today.

Stop and Search is playing Arcola Theatre until 9 February 2019. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website.