Paul T Davies reviews Roy Williams and Clint Dyer’s Death Of England : Delroy which was streaming online due to lockdown disruptions. It returns to the Olivier Theatre in Spring 2021
Death of England: Delroy.
National Theatre limited streaming, returns to the Olivier in April 2021.
National Theatre Website
Striding the pandemic like a colossus, Roy Williams and Clint Dyer’s two-part play, (The first, Death of England, premiered early this year), has been forged from experience and observation to create two monologues that encapsulate English attitudes, fragility, bigotry and stoicism when faced with the huge issues of our time. With forensic detail, they make sure we don’t turn away from injustice, yet they are forged with fires of passion and emotion. In the first, we met Michael, who was reeling from the death of his racist father, and now we hear from Delroy, Michael’s black best friend. Both pieces chart Brexit, football, English pride and defeats, and now we view England through Delroy’s experience. On his way to the hospital where his girlfriend, (Michael’s sister), is giving birth to their daughter, Delroy is stopped, searched and put into a police cell. Unable to control his anger, we first meet him having an electronic tag fitted and he takes us through the events until arriving at the first national lockdown.
The production has had many challenges, including the first night being their last night as lockdown two was enforced, and Michael Balogun taking over the role when the original actor was taken ill. He gives a superb performance, seamlessly capturing the complexity of Delroy. Here is a character who voted for Brexit, who voted Conservative, his job is as a bailiff. With his muscularity and confidence, the main thrust of the play is how he, and black men, are interpreted and forged by the white people’s view of them. He is arrested because of how he looks rather than because of any crime, no time is given for him to explain his situation. Balogan pierces you with vulnerability, as Carli, the mother of his child, her mother and the system paint a picture of him that they see, not what we see. Though Delroy is the main character, we see a host of others, including Delroy’s mother, who was threatened with deportation in the Windrush scandal, yet is still furious with Delroy for not being meek and submissive during his arrest. Familiar with the first play, when Delroy and Michael meet, it provides a thrilling core of the play when the two worlds clash once more. The themes of identity and belonging teem around the auditorium.
The excellent design, by Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey and Ultz, reflects the first play, performed on a St. George cross with symbolic props representing the other characters. Clint Dyer’s direction hits every beat of the text, balancing rage with fear, energy with stillness and vulnerability with the strength to fill the socially distanced Olivier, (the masked audience looking somewhat like a jury among the empty seats, which I suppose we are.) These two plays have been the highlight of my theatre year, forcing me to look anew at things I know to be true, and well worth any of your streaming and live performance time.