Making its debut at The Arcola Theatre, Gabriel Gbadamosi’s Stop and Search takes an intriguing, if sometimes cryptic look at the way we police ourselves and each other. In the same way the topic of immigration is so prevalent in current social discourse, it also provides the stepping stone in to this underworld where the line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ has become irrevocably blurred.
Directed by Mehmet Ergen, Stop and Search is comprised of three scenes and a short epilogue, each scene is ostensibly its own two hander. The character of Tel is the catalyst for the two scenes following the one the character actually appears in, but they have been written in such a way that they could quite probably be viewed independently of each other.
We are introduced to Tel (Shaun Mason) as he picks up Akim (Munashe Chirisa), a stranger, at the entrance to the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Both are headed to London, one perhaps trying to enter the country illegally, the other with a small cargo of illegal goods. As the two characters debate their own position, and question each other, the dialogue keeps the audience gripped as various elements of the story are revealed.
But then Stop and Search somewhat loses impetus as we move in to the second scene, entitled ‘Good Cop Bad Cop’. Lee (Tyler Luke Cunningham) and Tone (David Kirkbride) are on a stakeout, the target is Tel, but how they capture their mark is up for debate. There’s a little too much going on in such a short space of time. Lee’s past is heavily implied, while Tone’s prostate gets more attention than is strictly necessary, all distracting from the philosophical debate which eventually struggles to hold the audiences’ attention.
The final scene belongs to Bev (Jessye Romeo), Tel’s girlfriend, who’s taking a taxi to a bridge. This is mostly a beautifully delivered monologue, and Gbadamosi’s prowess as a poet comes through strongest here, the rhythmic structure of the dialogue both soothing and disturbing. The abrupt ending isn’t resolved in the epilogue, and leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions.
Again, it’s in the first scene where we see the best of Daniel Balfour’s sound design and Richard Williamson’s lighting, as the drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel is brought vividly to life, but this richness isn’t carried through to the rest of the play. Both Munashe Chirisa and Shaun Mason give excellent performances, and their absence going forward is keenly felt.
Stop and Search begins promisingly, but then struggles to deliver the message it’s hoping to give. A few too many distractions take away from the later scenes, leaving the audience behind. While there is a vital conversation to be had, it’s been buried too deeply to have the desired effect.