Stop and Search
Reviewed – 14th January 2019
“Good design and convincing acting ultimately save this messy, drawn-out and static production”
‘Stop and Search’ is Gabriel Gbadamosi’s “play as a Londoner” and, like London, is a sprawling, confusing urban adventure brimming with big ideas. A strong opening scene sets up some intriguing characters with questionable histories, but it’s a downhill slog from there.
Built around three tediously long conversations, the play professes to explore personal distrust and the blurring of lines between friendly chat and interrogation. Tel (Shaun Mason) picks up hitchhiking Akim (Munashe Chirisa) on his way smuggling illegal furs across the Channel. Meanwhile good cop/bad cop team Tone (David Kirkbride) and Lee (Tyler Luke Cunningham) pass the time working on a surveillance job closely linked to Tel’s girlfriend Bev (Jessye Romeo) and his own illegal activity. The final scene sees Akim as a cab driver, picking up Bev who has started to question how much her life is worth living.
The constellation of characters and situation should lead to fireworks, but instead burns out to empty exposition. Gbadamosi’s script fails in creating action and plot within the temporal and spatial confines of the play. Those long, winding conversations, although littered with some pretty turns of phrase, are not interesting enough in their own right to hold our attention. In fact, by reaching towards style over substance, the dialogue becomes quite opaque at times, leaving audience members asking on their way out: “Did you get what that was about?”
Mehmet Ergen’s direction does not help matters. Two out of three scenes take place in a car and remain static and restricted because of it. There is no sense of place or atmosphere in the one outdoor scene. As with the script, the direction lacks action and hides behind the words. The scenic design is reminiscent of a grimy underground car park, and Daniel Balfour’s sound builds a suitable feeling of dread in the climax of the piece. The actors work hard to create complex and convincing characters and give the script a much-needed energy. Chirisa and Mason remain the most interesting and evenly matched partnership.
‘Stop and Search’ does to London what ‘True Detective’ did to L.A. There is a whole world hidden behind this script that wants exploring, but this is sadly not the play to do it. Good design and convincing acting ultimately save this messy, drawn-out and static production.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Idil Sukan
Stop and Search
Arcola Theatre until 9th February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: