WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHERE?: National Theatre RUNTIME: 90 minutes (no interval)
WHEN: 21/10/20, opens 5/11/20, runs to 28/11/20 STOP PRESS: The 2nd lockdown means the last performance will now be 4/11/20 Watch this production for free on YouTube from 27/11/20 for 24 hours from 7pm
It’s a big week for UK theatre with the rescheduled Olivier Awards on Sunday and tonight (Wednesday 21 October) the National Theatre re-opened for the 1st time since lockdown in March.
- Read on for reasons including what National Theatre director Rufus Norris took to the stage to say
National Theatre director Rufus Norris took to the stage before this performance to say lockdown had been ‘the most challenging time in this organisation’s history’ and that the leading role in this new play was ‘quite a big apple to take a bite out of’.
Delroy was originally supposed to be played by Giles Terera who fell ill a fortnight before the show was due to open needing an emergency operation for acute appendicitis.
Michael Balogun who took on the role had no time for rehearsal runs before tonight’s performance.
New plays may have been limited in 2020 but Roy Williams and Clint Dyer’s Death of England starring Rafe Spall was shortlisted by this site for Best New Play and Best Theatre Actor earlier this year.
Death of England: Delroy shares much in common with its predecessor: its writers; characters; themes; but this is told from the point of view of Delroy, best friend of Michael in the original.
Norris and executive director Lisa Burger write in the programme notes: ‘Death of England: Delroy was written earlier this year as a companion piece to Death of England, which closed just before lockdown.
‘It was written from a very British perspective before the extraordinary Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd, and its resonance in this moment felt the most appropriate way to reopen and re-engage with the human stories that define this time.’
It explores the story of a black working class man searching for truth and confronting his relationship with Britain as we meet Delroy in London 2020 as he is arrested on his way to the hospital to be with his pregnant girlfriend, Michael’s sister.
If Death of England was a study of Michael’s crisis caused by the death of his father but also his meditation on his heartbreak about the country that shaped his father and his legacy, Delroy rams the point home. Our new titular protagonist is disillusioned at the hands of both the country he most loves and those he cares for most within it.
Balogun may not have been 1st choice to play Delroy but the biggest compliment we can pay him is that for us he was so convincing, he simply inhabited the role and we couldn’t imagine anyone playing him so well.
Coming into a 90-minute monologue with such preparation is astonishingly brave, Memorably he at one point uttered ‘Rufus, where are you when I need you?’ as he struggled for a prompt but this was a 1st preview and it’s already a winning performance and with practice will grow.
The writing is already some of the best we have seen on any stage for quite some time, not just this year but any year.