Christopher Alder died in police custody in Hull in April 1998. More than 20 years later, his story still has a terrible resonance in today’s society as the racial reckoning of the Black Lives Matter movement attests but crucially, can we really say anything has changed? The fact that Ryan Calais Cameron’s one-man-show Typical is also inspired by his own experiences of everyday racism suggests not though at the same time, he points to a potential pathway for the future.
Directed by Anastasia Osei-Kuffour, Typical is uncompromisingly direct. How could it be anything else? Talking airily of institutional racism is something like a get-out-of-jail-free card that allows too many of us to get away with shirking responsibility. Here, we have no choice but to look directly into the tight close-ups of a black man’s face as a group of police officers cause his death, in a police station, when he was the victim of the original crime of racial assault outside a nightclub earlier that evening.
The show is far from tragedy porn though. It opens with a wonderfully humane picture of Alder the man – a divorced man learning to flirt again, a loving father to his sons, a good friend who likes a drink or two. But what Calais Cameron shows us is even just a slither of what it is like to navigate being a black man in British society, the manifold ways in which prejudice manifests in any number of situations. In a club, in a hospital, in a police station – microaggressions mount up with tragic consequences.
Blackwood inhabits Alder with a beautiful sensitivity, aided by a vibrant and frequently funny script from Calais Cameron which is densely poetic and full of arresting humanity. He makes you feel every moment of the crushing tragedy you know is to come by offering us such vitality to accompany the inevitable vulnerability. And Paul Anderson’s lighting and Duramaney Kamara’s sound work both work wonders in elevating this filmed performance whilst maintaining its intense theatricality. Theatre of this quality is not that typical at all.
Typical is streaming via Soho Theatre until 31 March 2021.