Drama Review: Custody

Photos by Bianca Stella

Written by Tom Wainwright who was inspired by the banned Migrant Media documentary Injustice, directed by Gbemisola Ikumelo and based on creator Urban Wolf’s personal experiences, Custody follows a Black British family as they experience all the different stages of grief after losing someone to police brutality.  

January has seen a 400% rise in controversial stop and search routines across the UK. In Custody, 29-year-old Brian is pulled over by the police and ends up being murdered.    

Whilst this subject matter is far from easy, and we don’t always want or need reminders of how fragile Black lives are, in Custody the audience aren’t just hit over the head with trauma throughout. The play is interspersed with moments of joy, hope and laugh out loud humour, mostly at inappropriate times.

The cast are exceptional – Urbain Hayo, Ewa Dina, Muna Otaru and Rochelle James play Brian’s brother, sister, mother and fiancée, and completely embody their characters’ grief. Choreographed by Sara Dos Santos, there is beautiful movement throughout that perfectly captures the haunting grief, fear, rage and mania that Brian’s family members feel.

When we approached the cast after the show to congratulate them, they all echoed the same sentiment – that their performances came across as authentically as they did because they were authentic. This is an issue they all feel and have faced to some extent as Black Brits. There was no mistaking how emotionally taxing playing these roles was for them – they were excited and chatty, but definitely drained.

We never see Brian, he is depicted through a memorial, a silhouette, and the characters who take turns playing him. Who is Brian after all, if not just another one of many faceless, nameless victims of police brutality and institutional racism that never see justice.

Custody is still on at Ovalhouse Theatre for two more days! Head here to get your tickets.