Between Riverside And Crazy

Stephen Adly Guirgis
Hampstead Theatre
Hampstead Theatre

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Danny Sapani as Walter 'Pops' Washington and Tiffany Gray as Lulu Credit: Johan Persson
Tiffany Gray as Lulu and Martins Imhangbe as Junior Credit: Johan Persson
Judith Roddy as Detective Audrey O'Connor and Daniel Lapaine as Lieutenant Dave Caro Credit: Johan Persson
Danny Sapani as Walter 'Pops' Washington and Sebastian Orozco as Oswaldo Credit: Johan Persson
Martins Imhangbe as Junior and Danny Sapani as Walter 'Pops' Washington Credit: Johan Persson
Danny Sapani as Walter 'Pops' Washington and Ayesha Antoine as Church Lady Credit: Johan Persson
Judith Roddy as Detective Audrey O'Connor, Daniel Lapaine as Lieutenant Dave Caro, Danny Sapani as Walter 'Pops' Washington, Martins Imhangbe as Junior and Tiffany Gray as Lulu Credit: Johan Persson

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize play, which here gets its UK première directed by Michael Longhurst with a fine cast, centres on relatively recently widowed, black former cop Walter ‘Pops’ Washington.

He lives at a smart address, in a Riverside Drive apartment in Manhattan, but with a controlled rent. His landlord could charge ten times more if they could get him out. Eight years ago, he was shot six times by a rookie white officer raiding an after-hours bar where pop was drinking off-duty at six in the morning. He has had a court case running against NYPD ever since, which they want to settle.

Danny Sapani’s Pops, esconced in a wheelchair, seems instantly loveable, but the chair was his wife’s: it is just more comfortable than the kitchen chairs. Things aren’t all what they seem. Guirgis’s characters are true to life but not necessarily truthful. Kind-hearted Pops isn’t easily taken in, but he can be stubborn, and, as Sapani dramatically demonstrates, when challenged, explosive. It is a powerful performance, compelling to watch.

Since Pops’s wife died last Christmas (the dead tree is still there and with its lights on), his ex-con son, Junior, has moved in and they have provided shelter for some of Junior’s dodgy acquaintances, currently girlfriend Lulu (Tiffany Gray making her professional debut), whom Pops suspects isn’t as innocent as she looks, and Oswaldo (Sebastian Orozco), whom Junior met in prison and who is in the middle of a riff about healthy eating.

Pops’s former NYPD partner, white female detective Audrey (Judith Roddy), was so close that she now wants him to walk her down the aisle when she marries fiancé Lieutenant Dave Caro (Daniel Lapaine), but together they are also on track to get Pops to agree the deal over his compensation, which sets the sparks flying.

This is a compassionate picture of flawed people that is funny while verging on tragedy, and, as the drapes patterned with huge roses that surround Pops’s bedroom may presage, becomes increasingly surreal with the involvement of Ayesha Antoine’s Church Lady, who wears a voodoo necklace as well as a Christian cross.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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