REVIEW: COPS (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★

Tony Tortora‘s play Cops captures a long forgotten time with carefully drawn contrasting characters, a background of mobsters and corruption and dated attitudes that have evolved over the last sixty years. It moves at a snail’s pace as the characters’ home truths are slowly revealed during three painstakingly slow stakeouts. As a result, one feels there is a more interesting play waiting to be finished about these detectives in 1957 Chicago and this version at the intimate Southwark Playhouse never quite takes off, during its two hour running time.

It is evocatively staged with a set by Anthony Lambie, depicting the detectives shabby offices, where the four protagonists do their desk work and two warehouse rooms from where they stake out the arrival of an important mobster about to turn state witness. The composite set is full of authentic looking details like the images on the walls, the typewriters on the desks and the light fittings. The location is completed by Simon Slater‘s background sound track and Robbie Butler‘s lighting, especially of the various windows in the rooms. In this space we meet the four flawed detectives and watch their awkward banter and relationships unfold and fracture .

Stan has served in the police force since 1906 – a period spanning the 1919 Chicago race riots and the 1955 Rosa Park protests. He has survived and lives off of his memories but is largely desk bound and appears particularly ineffective on the stake out. He is a sad, isolated figure and well past his natural retirement date . He displays all the racist and misogynistic attitudes of his time . His relationship with his black colleague Rosey (Daniel Francis) is fraught and he appears tolerated rather than respected. Their boss is Eulee  (James Sobol Kelly) a polish detective concerned over security breaches who seems to cover up for Stan’s failings, brings him donuts every morning and allocates him simple tasks. He has earned a reputation for being a soft touch but has a sad backstory as a widower with an elderly father at home.

The fourth member of the team is the 22 year old new recruit Foxy (Jack Flaminger making his professional debut) who has had the job secured for him by his wealthy father but appears more interested in the young women that he chases and the music of Elvis. A fifth detective is assigned to them for the stake out, Hurley (Ben Keaton), but we only see him when he seeks warmth from his rooftop outlook.

Their conversations in the office and on the stakeout reveal their home secrets but we never really care for any of them or feel the danger they might be in from the gangs they are trying to police. The language and attitudes feel dated, rather than shocking and although there are some funny lines, the focus of the script is too much on revealing their backstories, rather than driving an engaging dramatic narrative. There are observations on masculinity, racism, corruption and intergenerational conflicts but it is mechanical and we never feel the pressure and tension of their roles and tasks.

The play creates a potentially interesting situation but despite the best efforts of the central four actors, the internal focus on their relationships and slow development means it drags and the expected dramatic moment of revelation or shock never arrives.

Reviewed by Nick Wayne
Photo: Robert Day

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