Fringe Online 2020
Chris Dyer directs, Death of England: Delroy staring Michael Balogun with Amy Newton voiceover, co-written with Roy Williams, designed by Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey and ULTZ. Lighting design’s by Jackie Shemish and Co-Sound Designers Benjamin Grant and Pete Malkin. Costumer Supervisor Iona Kendrick, Prop Supervisor Kirsten Shiell.
Head of Broadcast Emma Keith, Director for Screen Matthew Amos, Technical Producer Christopher C Bretnall, Senior Producer Flo Buckeridge, Lighting Director Bernie Davis, Sound Supervisor Conrad Fletcher.
We’ve been here before. A cruciform blood-red, St George crucified on crossed raised platforms now in the Olivier. Though there’s a difference. A moment later Michael Balogun in a dark t-shirt sits with his Guinness Original Extra Stout crouches, stalks his shadow. It’s virtually the only time he or the lighting is still.
‘There have been other moments in history when the opening night is also the closing night’ said Rufus Norris and now the two writers – Roy Williams and Chris Dyer (who also directs) – lob that sad trope of second lockdown at each other introducing the screened version, as they determine a second Death of England: Delroy.
If it’s the death of something else, it’s friendship with the man who was here before: Rafe Spall’s Michael, seen in February. The sequel – deriving from the short film Dim Sum developed by Headlong and the Guardian – wasn’t planned quite as events since then shape it. Not only lockdown conditions caused this to be broadcast. Delroy dismisses Black Lives Matter: ‘Thinking they are going to make changes jokers.’ Events though give him far more than a moment – as the leader of the opposition framed it.
Balogun circles the stage crouches, jumps off it, sprung for fights he’s about to undergo in the retelling. It’s how Delroy’s incident-studded arc moves from four confrontations to a resolution.
Delroy’s a bailiff, voted for Brexit and Johnson twice – something Michael in his memorably drunk rant at his father’s funeral taunts him with in his explosive re-enactment of his father Alan’s own racism. ‘Delroy, I love you, like a brother, but you may sound like us, act like us, but you will never be one of us’ Michael says ‘… it’s my dad talking.’ It’s repeated here as an echo.
Indeed this production’s full of replay, including Balogun’s pre-recorded voice, Delroy’s earlier self. This sequel’s a little less character-written too, less eager to explore a skew-sided magnificence of flaws. There’s still plenty of that, though Delroy’s made to carry a political awakening and sophisticated phrase-making Spall’s Michael doesn’t quite attempt in his more disinhibited arc, skirling with grief. It’s necessary. Since February’s there’s more at stake.
Delroy gives no easy virtue a platform. Silent in the earlier play, Delroy’s flawed too: ‘I didn’t give a fuck who we evicted – black, white.‘ His attitude to debt stems from his mother Denise who teaches pride and a thing or three about racial profiling and keeping quiet. And pride in that means he can’t initially comprehend the scale of rejection from his friend and from his friend’s sister Carly: also his partner, she’s about to give premature birth.
Delroy wrong-turns at the Underground, races up an escalator straight into police fists: mistaken for a criminal. Cue moments we’re too used to this year. Delroy’s reactions aren’t wise, there’s slamming use of lighting and sound; banged up, he’s released on remand only just in time for the hospital.
In a fug of pain Carly throws Delroy the same abuse, he exits to confront Michael now apologetic and reformed. It’s a second memorable crux: armed with unsheathed self-knowledge through rants and one police assault, Delroy’s transformed. Subject to abuse since 15, he clicks it together in appalled recognition: from covid through the death of George Floyd, through the dynamics of his own mixed-race relationship. Michael manages to note Delroy’s never been on a march. We’re spiralled into a court case where Delroy eloquently manages to lose it at the last moment. He’s alone. It’s lockdown. Then there’s a video message. It changes everything.
Balogun’s sweeping asides, his easy command of space, down to a slouch or crouch is also watchful. There’s never a lurch or a sense that calibrated loss of control is an option as it is with Michael. Balogun can ad-lib to cosy outrage, audience just inches from him; drink and gesture with a nudge more containment than Spall’s character. The self-realisation’s one of some dignity, not quite Michael’s self-loathing, though there’s a lick of that. So much burns up on that cruciform stage designed by Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey and ULTZ. Featuring one torn central well from where for instance a teenage-recalled glitter-ball from courting Carly rises, where the joyous explosion of pink helium party balloons is a gaudy highlight, riveting us when so much is otherwise dark with red carpet.
Again there’s a head of Nefertiti (to denote Denise); all sorts of life from headphones to Jamaican parties and Guinness. Jackie Shemish’s lighting hyperactively follows or directs movements: it’s mesmeric, clean and snuffs down to a sense of the liminal. Out of thin coronas Balogun steps back into myth. And just sometimes they blind us like football floodlights. All to an overwhelming sound design by Pete Malkin and Benjamin Grant. Provide a stable of voices off, notably a voice this time Amy Newton’s voiceover for wife Carly.
Thankfully NT captured this performance on press night. They’ve recorded all productions since 1995, but moved smartly to craft this. Difficult, almost overloaded with significance, the writing vividly renders huge black experience into a narrative that bears it, because so well-constructed, so character-driven and so inhabited by Balogun whose blaze of awakening is both benediction and clarion.