Socialist Worker

New play pulls no punches about deaths in custody

Issue No. 2549

Karlina Grace-Paseda in Custody

Karlina Grace-Paseda in Custody (Pic: Lidia Crisafulli)

Theatre: Custody

Created by Urbain Hayo and written by Tom Wainwright.

Free performance Thu 20 Apr at Poplar Union, 2 Cotall St, London E14 6TL. Tour details

Custody is a powerful piece of theatre, which examines the impact on an ordinary family whose innocent son dies at the hands of the police in a “routine stop and search”.

Brian, a young black man, is profiled as being a criminal by racist police and then suffers an undignified death on the floor of a police cell.

The story is told through a stream of consciousness from its four characters—Brian’s mother, brother, sister and fiancee.

The narrative is a surreal mixture of often quite abstract thoughts, poetry and song but it weaves together perfectly the story of a family destroyed by murder and then failed by the system.

While researching the play Hayo, who also stars in it, worked closely with campaigners around real custody deaths.

These include groups such as Inquest and Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean died in Brixton police station in 2008.

So the play pulls no punches in portraying the reality of seeking justice and closure for a loved one dying at the hands of an incompetent and racist state.

One of the play’s main strengths is that it keeps the story and its injustice in the background while focusing primarily on the lives of its central characters. Their personal conflict and obvious frailties give it a decidedly human feel, which brings extra power to its message and negates the need for any obvious preaching.

However, it does still contain some powerful speeches. With its slick production, clever set design and flawless performances this production offers a graphic insight into the scandalous record of the treatment of black people by the state.

Guy Smallman


Exhibition: This is Hull! Rock Against Racism Posters Exhibition Tour

Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London, E1 6LA.

3-26 May. Free entry. Also showing in Edinburgh’s Summerhall and schools and colleges in Hull. Details at

The original silkscreen posters designed for Hull Rock Against Racism 1979-82 will be on display with a clear message—we beat back the racists then and we can beat them back now!

Richard Lees’ designs were adapted from German Expressionist woodcuts, Soviet Constructivist film posters and Paris 68 screen prints.

With production runs of around 250, the prints were flyposted all over Hull.

They were often in blocks of four to eight posters per site, creating a powerful anti-racist street art presence in the city.

Continuing that anti-racist tradition Richard is chair of Hull Stand Up To Racism. The exhibition has been sponsored by East Riding NUT union.

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