Friday, 6 February 2009

The Hounding of David Oluwale - West Yorkshire Playhouse

The Hounding of David Oluwale by Kester Aspden
Adaptor: Oladipo Agboluaje

Director by Dawn Walton
Reviewer: Ali Noble

‘The Hounding of David Oluwale’ makes for an h
our and 50 minutes of uncomfortable viewing. It tells the harrowing story of a Nigerian immigrant to Leeds, whose dreams of a prosperous life in England are quickly shattered by the realities of prejudice and hardship. The play follows his story: unable to integrate into society, spells in prison and mental health institutions, homelessness, and his persecution by the local police force, whose physical abuse culminates in his death.

Adapted for the stage by Oladipo Agboluaje, the play is based on the book of the same name by Kester Aspden, a historian who researched the life and death of David Oluwale, and interviewed police officers and others involved with the case, along with Oluwale’s friends and acquaintances. The remarkably flexible cast played their parts through a largely chronological depiction of David’s story. Stand-out performances came from Daniel Francis, in the title role, and Ryan Early, as Perkins, the Scotland Yard man whose investigations and imagination act as the vehicle through which the drama unfolds. There were a couple of weaker performances, but on the whole, the cast performed well in what is undoubtedly a difficult story to tell.

Costumes and sets were simple but cleverly pieced together; the space on stage was used effectively. Lots of movement made the production dynamic and kept the audience pulled in to the performance; spatterings of humour gave comedic relief but also acted as a contrast to the dark themes being played out. News announcements, radio clips, and speeches by officials were used as time-markers, neatly indicating the passing of years, and shading-in the social and political back-drop of Oluwale’s tale.

The performance was not as emotionally-moving as I’d anticipated; being a self-confessed cry-baby, I was surprised not to have left the theatre weeping. The play is galling to watch, though, perhaps mostly because of all of the stories here represented that are unspoken and forgotten: lives destroyed by the vitriol of hatred, ignorance and prejudice. After all, David Oluwale’s case is the first and only time (since records began in the 1970s) that officers have been prosecuted for charges pertaining to this sort of police-related death. The play serves as a chilling memorial to all those stories untold, and justices undelivered. It also acknowledges the quiet heroism of people such as Inspector Perkins, determined to uncover the truth, born from those supposedly “naive” motivations of decency and moral obligation.

Watching the play in Leeds, discovering one of the darker moment’s of this city’s recent history, added to the discomfort of the play, and personalised the drama. On the way home, we walked past the spot where Oluwale was last seen alive, being beaten by his tormentors, before being chased and drowned in the River Aire. This play will at least ensure that the story of David Oluwale is known, and remembered, by it’s audiences.

Photos: Keith Pattison
The Hounding of David Oluwale runs at the WYP until 21st Feb 09
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