Custody, Ovalhouse

By guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

HOPE: A feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen.

How do we cope when we don’t get what we want? How do we beat a system that is set up to make you fail? Custody asks just these questions, as we are taken on a two-year journey of a family’s struggle for justice for their loved one, twenty-nine year old Brian, who died whilst in police custody. Through this eighty-minute narrative, we see four different individuals cope/hope, whilst their questions are left unanswered.

Memorial flowers and bricks with messages of “I miss you” decorate the stage, yet the build is obviously on a budget. It seems like with a gust of wind it will all blow away. Generally, transitions could be a lot smoother. That being said, John Castle’s lighting design is aesthetically pleasing, offering moments of touching shadow imagery. The opening sequence is particularly effective, movement director Cindy Claes’ choreography works beautifully to viscerally tell a story.

The play does well to show how four different people grieve. Whilst Mother mourns, Sister fights, Lover leaves, Brother turns to drugs – it is clear that Brian was the glue holding the family together. Despite a recorded video feed and eyewitness statements, there is still a lack of substantial evidence to prosecute the police officers responsible for his death presented here. The world carries on turning for everybody else, but for this family time stands still – they are unable to move on with their lives.

There is strong direction from Gbemisola Ikumelo, with some enjoyable choral moments where the poetic lyricism of the text shines through. The actor who particularly stands out is Karlina Grace-Paseda, playing Mother. Her trauma from losing her son is harrowing; she projects her grief onto the audience with terrific might. However no matter how much she gives it is not enough to prevent this play from not delivering the impact it wants. The script is too flimsy; the odd moment of genius is immediately overridden by unimpressive dialogue.

This play has potential to be an important piece of issue based theatre, but at times it loses integrity, seeming more like more of a generic attack on white people rather than confronting prejudice and racial discrimination. That being said, I have to recognise my privilege as a white person, someone who has never been stopped and searched. I respect that this particular story will mean a lot more to other people who sat in the audience tonight. This is certainly a community piece of theatre, for a certain community to enjoy. The majority of the audience seems to enjoy it and it is definitely worth a watch for the themes it explores.

Custody runs through 8 April.

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