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Stop and Search review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘intriguing, but muddled’

Shaun Mason and Munashe Chirisa in Stop and Search at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Who can you trust? Particularly if you’re a young black person in this day and age? That’s the question posed by poet and playwright Gabriel Gbadamosi in this muddled 90-minute drama.

It’s a necessary question, but one which is let down by uninspired direction and a text that feels underdeveloped.

Stop and Search is structured into three separate scenes which eventually, if somewhat unconvincingly, coalesce in its final moments. A belligerent white driver with criminal ties picks up a young refugee on his way to the UK. Two surveillance officers become increasingly antagonistic towards each other. A young woman gets into a minicab and directs the driver to the edge of a bridge. All these conversations brim with distrust and unease, with occasional moments of oddly broad humour.

Gbadamosi’s writing feels tonally unmodulated – sometimes intensely poetic, sometimes frustratingly oblique, and sometimes just plain too expositional, never totally allowing all the elements to unite – and a few of the actors seem to struggle with the demands of the material, though Tyler Luke Cunningham and Munashe Chirisa stand out for their delicate yet steadfast performances.

Mehmet Ergen’s direction is lacklustre and does little to elucidate the dense text, while Daniel Balfour’s sound design goes too far the other way, swelling unnecessarily at moments of high tension. However, Eleanor Bull’s minimal yet effective design is reminiscent of a dingy, claustrophobic jail-cell, with Richard Williamson’s flickering strip lights casting an eerie blue glow on the proceedings. It all feels a little otherworldly – except of course, the content is all too real.

It’s a shame – there’s something sharp and fresh in Gbadamosi’s blend of realism and poeticism, and it’s certainly a story worth telling. It just gets lost in the delivery.

Playwright Gabriel Gbadamosi: ‘If some people are not free, then who is?’

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Intriguingly poetic, if muddled, play about living in a climate of distrust