Picking up where it stopped on 16 March the Natonal Theatre re-opened with this one person stand-alone play – it is more than a monologue – a companion piece to Death of England which was running then. That starred Rafe Spall as Michael who told his coloured friend Delroy in it that while he might act like us, might sound like us he would never be one of us, and deep down Delroy knew that.
It is that otherness that Delroy exposes as he acts out the events of his day, one of disaster after disaster. Michael Balogun delivers a stunning performance, all the more impressive because he had only two weeks to learn the role when the original actor Giles Terera got appendicitis, and he does not just have the words to cope with but an amazingly complicated staging.
The Olivier Stage has been turned into a theatre in the round and in the acting space is an elevated platform shaped like a cross, from the heart of which – there are blackouts, sometimes on part only is lit – all sorts of props, bottles, cushions, laptops, appear. He also has that trickiest of tasks, talking to all around while his back is turned to some.
But there is one problem – Roy Wlliams, who wrote the play, may have been an “other” with a Cockney accent, But Balogun’s Delroy does not and at times it is very difficult to make out the words – there is a lot of noise, a lot of shoutiong – Delroy is volatile and very angry – but sometimes the sound and fury makes no sense.
One’s ear does become attuned, but it really is a problem. It does not detract from the impact of the performance but it does detract for our understanding of why Delroy is afflicted by his otherness. He is black, but he is not an immigrant. He was born here, he has a job, a car, a house, a white partner, a child about to be born, but he is not accepted and he knows that other black Britons are no help – when he is arrested the policeman in charge at the station is black. They are, he says, the worst and the man goes on to demonstrate that.
It is, however, a standing ovation deserving performance and the play hits right at the heart of the prejudices people have, those unconscious bias moments. The National has been slow in re-opening, but this is an inspired choice with which to re-awake from the virus imposed coma.
Delroy: Michael Balogun.
Director: Clint Dyer.
Set and Costume Designers: Sadeysa Greenway-Bailey; Ultz.
Lighting Designer: Jackie Shemesh.
Sound Designer: Pete Malkin; Benjamin Grant.
Photograph: Helen Murray