Adaptor: Oladipo Agboluaje
Director: Dawn Walton
Reviewer: Marie Kenny
When we are young, we are told we can be anything we want to be. Take a nineteen year old male with hope, ambition, courage and optimism, and thigs sound promising. David Oluwale was a nineteen year old with all of these qualities. He left Nigeria in 1949 to start a new and exciting life in England. His dreams never became a reality.
Eclipse Theatre’s gripping production of ‘The Hounding of David Oluwale’ begins with Oluwale’s battered body being retrieved from the River Aire in 1969. DCI Perkins from Scotland Yard was appointed to investigate his death. In Agboluaje’s adaptation, Oluwale is brought back to life throughout Perkin’s investigation, to tell his story and seek justice. Through a series of flashback scenes, he takes the detective on a tour of the twenty years he spent in Leeds and his years growing up in Lagos.
David Oluwale dreamed of becoming an engineer and making his mother proud; Instead, he failed to get any stable employment, he was arrested over a minor incident and consequently spent eight years in a psychiatric hospital. The treatment in those days consisted of shock therapy and insulin injections. Upon his release he was a changed man, a broken man and a homeless man. He was a tramp who didn’t suit the image of Leeds and consequently he suffered under a horrific campaign of victimization by Inspector Elleker and Sergeant Kitching of Leeds police. Both men were convicted of assault and served prison sentences, but escaped charges of causing Oluwale’s death.
Director Dawn Walton has created a magnificently balanced piece. Whilst the subject matter is at times, incredibly painful to watch, there is a restrained, steady, approach to the pace of the play. The action is consistently fluid and engaging. Heartbreaking moments are delivered swiftly and then the plot is picked up by the supporting cast. The audience is not left to dwell or cry for this man, but to consider the conditions which led to his downfall.
Similarly the set, designed by Emma Wee enables this resourceful and creative reconstruction. With little fuss it is convincingly transformed from the markets of Lagos to a nightclub in Leeds and a psychiatric hospital, to mention just a few.
Daniel Francis takes on the central role of Oluwale and delivers an outstanding, compelling performance. His complex transformation is real, from the admirable, larger than life youngster, to the desperate, scared and beaten vagrant. In one particular scene he meets with a Nigerian friend who has found happiness in the UK, he has a job, a family, a home. Whilst talking, Oluwale sights a policeman, he instinctively lies down in the street, cowering and crying, a desperate, pitiful mess and a far cry from the confident young man he once was. His torn, dirty clothes and diminished physicality, next to his old friend, reveals a touching vision of what could have been.
On the whole this is a tight cast, Steve Jackson as Kitching is unnervingly aggressive, small-minded and terrifying. There is some excellent character doubling from Clare Perkins and Laura Power in particular,
This is a worthwhile story of immigration and racism in the fifties and sixties, of a community that looks away and does not care. This is a story of brutality, hardship and cruelty, a story that deserves to be told. This is also a story about dreams which are lost but are not forgotten.
Photos: Keith Pattison
David Oluwale runs at the Liverpool Everyman until Sat 7th March 09