Review: ★★★ Cops, Southwark Playhouse

Cops doesn’t fit neatly into any specific category. It is a comedy, drama and crime story all at once, but all of these different elements come second to the portrayal of the main characters. It is set in 1950s Chicago, so the four police officers who are the focus of the production encounter various issues, such as the interactions between various ethnic and national groups, police corruption and religious issues that were prevalent at the time.

It is hard to define the central plot of the play. It follows one specific case and shows the stakeouts involved to solve it, but the focus is always on the cops themselves so the case remains secondary. None of the central issues are resolved in any definite way, but the characters who have to deal with them grow and change in response to them.

The set is small, the front half set up to be the office at the police station and the back half split in two to present the different stake out locations. Everything feels very authentic and appropriate for the time period, but the use of the space does sometimes feel cramped. With only four main cast members and one secondary character, almost all of the scenes are completely dialogue, which illustrates various aspects of each character, so by the end the audience has a complete picture. The cast immerses the audience in the world of 1950s police work, their accents and mannerisms suit for the time period well. The comedy is sharp and down-to-earth, as it often comes from how the characters interact with each other rather than the situation.

Strangely, the most engaging parts of the plot happen when nothing is really happening. Totora weaves an intricate web of stories and biographical details from the four very different cops so that the most important aspect is how they all behave around each other. The old school Stan (Roger Alborough) clashes with confident new recruit Foxy (Jack Flammiger), while Rosey (Daniel Francis) faces discrimination based on his race and Eulee (James Sobol Kelly) attempts to keep the peace. There is no traditional plot build up or definite explanation of the characters’ backstories, all of the information that the audience gets comes from the dialogue. This method of storytelling creates an interesting and complex portrait of the characters, but does leave the overarching case that links the scenes together feeling slightly contrived and unnecessary. At times, it feels as though the independent scenes – which often contain a lot of the humour and characterisation – are competing with the more traditional narrative of the case so it is unclear with aspect is the priority. Sometimes they both distract the audience from the other.

Overall, this production is unexpected; it is unusual to see a topic that lends itself so easily to action and drama being used in such a different way. Director Andy Jordan does not need shoot-outs or dramatic arrests to bring the audience into the world of Chicago policing. Totora’s creation of different, complex characters introduces an interesting new perspective on a complicated environment in a turbulent time period.

Emma Grimsley

Emma Grimsley
Emma Grimsley

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