Roy Williams’s new play falls drastically short of its aspirations: it wants to be a hard-hitter that makes the state of Jamaica savagely clear, but instead it’s a two-hour TV special that’s fallen through time from the macho geezer bullshit of the late ’90’s.
Williams writes his cop drama in convincing Jamaican patois, so dense it requires surtitle screens, and it’s a riot of skittering one-liners and hilarious switchback exchanges. Referencing Tarantino directly, it feels like a mash-up of ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and early Guy Ritchie in its verbal dexterity and fetishisation of linguistic brutality.
The problem is it’s all so silly. Goldie, as gang-boss Joker, looms over the stage in an uncharacteristically camp set from super-designer Ultz, unconvincing stage combat erupts everywhere and one character literally pauses in a doorway to say, ‘You know, I was a good copper once…’
None of that would really be a problem if Williams wasn’t trying for something more, but heartfelt passages describing the impact of British colonialism and the poverty of Jamaica’s slums that only gangland dons like Joker seem to care about are swamped by his constant craving for a punchline or a moment of cheap gravitas. Worse, although latent misogyny and homophobia are referenced, they’re not explored: the marginalised are kept well away from the core of Williams’s play.
There’s a strong performance from Trevor Laird as both police chief and chancing weed dealer, and Gamba Cole as newbie gangster Adrian, but Goldie would be criminally underused if he wasn’t so utterly underpowered. Described in the programme as ‘a multi-talented shape-shifter’, here he seems to have assumed the form of a budget Vinnie Jones.
There’s a fierce and intelligent play here struggling to get out, but it doesn’t stand a chance under the weight of cop-show cliché, and manufactured peril.
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Really? Though I sometimes struggled to understand where the play was going, I thought it was absolutely spot on with its portrayal of Jamaican masculinity. Many of the characters are just as marginalised as the victims of homophobia and misogyny and their slurs expose an everyday reality rather than endorsing or trivialising it. Anyway, not every play about the outside world should have propounding your world view as its goal. You ought to leave some room for other voices.