Until the Flood

Dael Orlandersmith
Arcola Theatre
Arcola Theatre

Dael Orlandersmith Credit: Alex Brenner
Dael Orlandersmith Credit: Alex Brenner
Dael Orlandersmith Credit: Alex Brenner

It is a long time since Dael Orlandersmith captured British hearts and minds with her powerful play Yellowman.

The American writer-performer has managed to repeat the trick with this new play, which comes straight to London having won multiple awards during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The 70-minute solo performance, directed by Neel Keller, takes place on a Takeshi Kata-designed stage that becomes a shrine and is a reminder of how intoxicating both the American’s writing and performing can be.

Until the Flood takes on relatively familiar stage territory, but regrettably its story is still tragic and timely.

The chilling catalyst for a piece that comprises eight verbatim monologues and a poetic, hopeful summarising conclusion was the killing of a young black man, Michael Brown, by Police Officer Darren Wilson on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

In that every police officer in the area was apparently white, it is a given that this immediately becomes a tale of damaged race relations and mistrust.

Dael Orlandersmith is a convincing performer, who is as good at depicting a 17-year-old white man as an elderly black woman.

This is helpful, since it cannot have been easy to strive for balance in a situation where an almost innocent man (actually the perpetrator of a petty theft) is gunned down in the street by a policeman, who then following the standard pattern was substantially exonerated.

This is the kind of thing that appears to happen in America on a constant basis, hardly helped by gun laws which mean that policemen perhaps reasonably assume that anyone who they challenge might be armed and dangerous.

The testimonies delivered are presented in an order that does its best to look at both sides of the argument. While it is very easy to condemn Officer Wilson, even ignoring the white supremacist whose views more than make up for those of a relatively extreme black counterpart, most of the voices heard are eminently reasonable.

In particular, a 17-year-old black man who is planning to study history of art at Berkeley helps us to understand the climate of fear that even the totally innocent endure.

This compelling drama is an incisive and thought-provoking piece of writing which illuminates an important subject that is relevant not only to the United States but also in a Britain where weaponry seems to be becoming more common amongst the youth community and the government is on the verge of reintroducing random stop and search, with its almost inevitable in-built racial bias.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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