B2 Belgrade Theatre


We are greeted by a tableau, the four actors moving as if in a dream. In unison, they staccato the sanitised report from the police, ‘There was a scuffle and, I’m sad to say, Brian passed away’.

This gripping and innovative drama follows the grief, emotion and search for truth and justice that Brian’s family and fiancée pursue after an ‘incident’ in which Brian dies in police custody.

What was Brian’s crime? Seemingly, that he was a big black man driving a BMW. It is a harsh, cruel and needless death that Brian didn’t deserve at the hands of three thuggish policemen with restraining tactics out of the dark ages.

With Stop and Search back in the headlines, it is a topical and thoroughly believable scenario that makes great, sobering theatre. We don’t meet Brian; we meet his family and see him through their eyes; his mother (Mona Otaru), his sister (Ewa Dina), his brother (Urban Wolf) and fiancée (Rochelle James). It sounds heavy, and deservedly so, but there are many moments of light-hearted banter and laughter that offer contrast and relief.

The truth has a long and difficult birth. The police close ranks, the judiciary takes its time, Brian’s body isn’t released for burial for months and, though the drama covers two full years from his death, the family are no closer to finding the culprits.

Brian’s sister takes the lead in organising rallies, brother is less convinced as to the campaign’s worth and mother is most concerned that Brian is an unhappy ghost, stuck between life and death replaying events on a continuous loop.

The toll on the family is huge. The fiancée moves on. Sister is tired out by her campaign, brother and she are fighting all the time, mother has a stroke that robs her of speech. In a scene towards the end, brother and sister’s language is so fruity, mother’s wordless reaction forces them to apologise each time – basically every sentence.

The set is brilliantly versatile with a Brian-size gaping hole through a brick wall that reveals a multi-purpose hospital set. On the plus side, this makes gripping and realistic theatre, though at times the sound of drumming was so loud as to make it hard to hear the actors.

Written by Tom Wainwright and directed by Gbemisola Ikumelo, Custody runs to 04-05-19.

Jane Howard


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