Writers: Clint Dyer and Roy Williams
Director: Clint Dyer
Death of England: Delroy is a fighting play in every sense. The barriers it overcame to make the stage pays testament to the urgency of the tale it tells in the national and global climate: the battle against racism in 2020.
Social distancing regulations and the industry’s instability make this year an extremely difficult time to produce a play. Roy Williams and Clint Dyer made it happen. On 4th November this fiercely vital show was the first to reopen the National Theatre. Devastatingly, after all the committed work, its opening night was forced to be its closing one due to the second lockdown. Thankfully, it was made available to stream at home for 24 hours via YouTube.
Following the acclaim of their play Death of England earlier this year, Williams and Dyer have returned with a spin-off which provides an equally nuanced and interrogative exploration of contemporary Britain. The one-man piece follows Delroy, an angry, lonely and let-down Boris-voting parolee, ex-bailiff with a new-born he is banned from seeing. The complexity of his character is constant. It is impossible to guess his next line. The inability to categorise him is part of the play’s point. For Delroy, despite all his individualities, is forced to confront the realisation that to the system and to his white counterparts, he is seen only as a Black outsider. After he is racialised by the police as well as his girlfriend and best friend, the rage that comes from this realisation devours him.
Michael Balogun embodies Delroy’s emotions with a captivating vigour. His physical and vocal strength command the stage space – a red-papered cross representing the St George’s Cross – as well as the entire ninety minutes. His anger is unyielding and, at times, all-consuming, but it is never one-note. And although Delroy makes it clear that the frustration he feels is deeply personal, familiar signs remind us that the narrative of a Black man falsely arrested and maltreated by the police is age-old.
Balogun manages to make the theatre space, sparse and spread out by social distancing measures, intensely intimate. Humour fills the gap between Delroy and the audience; he won’t allow us to merely spectate his outrage, but we are invited to share in it. He is self-deprecating and witty, racing around the space with a can of Guinness in his hand, burping, impersonating peers and recollecting on his past with us. Surprising props and the powerful use of sound and lighting support Balogun in executing a rapidly-paced, easy-to-follow and engaging production. It is always only just possible to keep up with Delroy and that is part of the play’s triumph.
Balogun’s seamless, rapid switching between characters in moments of conversation is astounding, not only in his tone of voice, but also in his physicality and facial expressions. This multi-vocal form is reminiscent of Debbie Tucker Green’s fantastic 2008 play random, which similarly examines Britain’s racism. In both works, the portrayal of multiple characters by the protagonist creates humour as well as sadness. The audience’s detachment from Delroy’s friends and family emphasises his isolation. Alone and locked down by the pandemic and his tag, Delroy exists only through his memories.
The script is clever, far-reaching and extremely current, with references to the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Any distancing is made impossible; this play cuts straight through the screen into the home of its viewers. If there were ever a way for a play to manage being forced to close on its opening night, Death of England: Delroy has proven how.
Returns to the National Theatre in Spring 2021