Review: ★★★★ Custody, Sheffield Crucible Studio Theatre

Custody is an extremely powerful piece representing the story of a young black man killed in police custody.  Playwright Urban Wolf says the central character Brian is not there to be an every man figure, yet his nameless family fighting a frustrating and losing battle make it is easy to see how his story can be transferred.

The audience never get a chance to meet Brian, instead we learn about him through his family. Almost immediately we are told that he is the ‘perfect first born son’ and ‘gentle older brother’ painting a picture of someone who is kind and good, meaning we are just as confused as his family when he is picked on by the police, forcing the audience to join them in their journey and feel their pain with them.

The cast is made up of four actors, portraying Brian’s, mother, brother, sister and lover, but on occasions the actors would step out of these roles to portray policeman or Brian himself. These usually occur in very physical sequences, the ones involving Brian tended to be fairly uncomfortable, and at times scary to watch showing him in a state not far from death, with lots of jerky movements, twitchy shoulders and repetitive speech.

However, some of the other physical moments are incredibly clever, for example whilst the police are creating the press release the audience see them physically dress Brian as the gangsta they want to make him out to be.

The set initially appeared to be rather simple, a brick wall at the front of the stage with a cut out of a mans head -this breaks after the first scene to reveal a sterile white cell that is used for the rest of the action.

The issue of deaths in police custody is one usually associated with the USA, but Urban Wolf  shed light on the fact that it is also a problem in this country. This is done incredibly skilfully; catch Custody when it opens at the Oval House London from 5th – 22nd June.

Jennifer Thompson

Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Thompson

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