Set on general election night 1979, the play takes place in the far from cosy surroundings of a police interview room where Delroy (Nolan Frederick) is under suspicion of murder. And it is here where the Black-e really comes into its own.
The studio location is suitably bare, its walls unwelcoming, the lighting even starker. Moreover locating the play somewhere ‘mid the bowels of this grand old building certainly helps lend a feeling of claustrophobia to proceedings. It’s a subterranean world of insinuation and accusation.
Adding to the authenticity is the fact that Keefe’s play is based upon a true story. That story is a tale of how an innocent young man of Caribbean descent is taken into police custody one evening following the tragic death of his young wife. And remember this is the 70s.
Thus what follows is an uncomfortable, at times harrowing testimony of institutional procedures and attitudes that, at times, have the power to shock the sensibilities of a contemporary audience.
Alan Stocks as DS Karn is a bull in a china shop – a man of bluster and one senses limited intelligence while sidekick DC Wilby (Nigel Peever) is a menacingly sadistic presence. The pair set about interrogating their suspect with perhaps just a little too much glee.
It’s an hour and a half of cat and mouse although this is not your standard good cop/bad cop routine. These two are not so much bad, more misguided, products of their time.
It has to be said there is not much in the way of light relief in this play. It’s nothing if not an intense piece of drama. As an examination of liberty and the conflicts between state and individual it raises some interesting questions which still have relevance today.
As a piece with dramatic quality however, it’s arguably less successful. Keefe’s script is wordy, heavy on ideas and thus a real challenge one would imagine for directors. The characters too, are somewhat archetypal and as such do not develop or alter in any meaningful way throughout the play. Would the intensity have been lost had the cops paused for thought or wrestled with their consciences, even for a moment?
Hats off to the company then for taking this on. It’s certainly heartening to see a fledgling theatre company collaborating with a community venue such as the Black-e. Any deficiencies here are solely due to the script. The performers, producers and hosts on the other hand were fully deserving of the rousing applause they received at curtain fall.