Bit of a scuffle: Custody @ovalhouse

Custody has returned to the Ovalhouse Theatre following an earlier run there. Seemingly taken from the headlines, it follows the fallout from after black man in south London was arrested and then dies in police custody.  “There was a bit of a scuffle, and I’m sorry to say he passed away,” Informs the police officer arriving at the home.

And then his family and his lover are left behind to pick up the pieces and pull together the strands of information about what happened. It’s a powerful piece inspired by creator Urban Wolf’s experience with the police and written in collaboration with Tom Wainwright.

Part poetry, dreams, reality and anger, a series of short scenes come together to paint a picture of how the system is against people from the start if they don’t look or act the right way. Written at the time of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (which has since been replaced by the Independent Office for Police Conduct), it details the petty bureaucracy and general ineffectiveness of the body as the family seeks justice while grieving. 

It’s evocatively staged with the cast surrounded by a makeshift memorial of candles, flowers and soft toys trying to remember the loss. There’s plenty of energy from the four cast members, and there’s also plenty of humour. While justice for a life cut short may be elusive,  a life celebrated and remembered endures. 

But you leave the theatre unsure whether the lessons from the past have yet to be learned. You Laws and government bodies can come and go, but ignorance can be all-pervasive.

Directed by Gbemisola Ikumelo, Custody is at Ovalhouse Theatre until 22 June.


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