You didn’t pass anywhere.
Your throat was constricted,
your face held down
hands cuffed behind your back
bones breaking in your neck
eyes rolling up in your head
You didn’t pass away, you didn’t die, you weren’t killed
You were murdered.
When a young black man, Brian, dies in police custody, it sends shock waves across the community. Reeling from his death, Brian’s family struggle to make sense of their loss, whilst pursuing a lengthy court battle to find justice.
Inspired by creator Urban Wolf’s own experiences with the police, this stark and timely new play explores how young black men are slipping through the cracks in society. How do you fight for justice in a system where nobody is on your side?
Please can you tell us why the conversation around death in police custody is uncomfortable in the UK why it is still happening?
In the UK we have a culture of politeness. This does not help us talk and discuss openly about taboo issues such as race. There has also been an effort to cover up deaths in custody. The media and the police are also very close and work together on cases and I believe this makes it hard for the media to hold police properly accountable.
Tell us about the play Custody and what prompted you to want to deal with this matter?
Urbain: I wanted to make a piece about deaths in custody as there aren’t that many plays or films that cover this issue, especially from the perspective of the family. In many cases the media would report the death of someone in the news and highlight the event, but not what happens to the family or how it effects communities.
What can we expect from the play and what do you want people to know that they may not be aware of?
Urban: I want people to realise that racism is alive in the UK in 2019. I want the audience to realise that we must hold our police and institutions accountable. I want them to realise that there are black men dying constantly due to the use of brutal force during arrests.
Do you think we are moving towards a time when people are being forced to have uncomfortable conversations?
Urbain: Due to the ME2 movement people are having very important conversations about equality, but even after the Black Lives Matter movement nothing much has really changed. I feel until the police and the government are willing to admit they have historically failed people, then we can have a real conversation.
How did you start out in theatre?
Urban: I started in youth theatre and took part in community theatre programs and courses. I was attracted to theatre because of its power to create empathy with audiences.
What motivates the writing process?
Urban: The writing process is a mixture or research and improvisation. To develop this play, we interviewed families who have had someone die in police custody. By speaking to real people who have experienced this you are motivated to develop and tell the story in the most authentic way possible.
How do the powers the police have with stop and search feed into the story of deaths in police custody in Custody the play?
Urbain: Many deaths in custody, and in the play, occur after stop and search. So, the increased use of stop and search puts more black lives at risk. I believe we will see an increase in deaths in custody again, as a result of an increase use of stop and search.
How has the success of the play made you feel?
Urban: The success of the play made me feel proud that this story is being told. I am an activist and I use art as a tool for activism, so it makes me feel like I’m doing my job and representing my family.
Tell us a bit about Injustice the film by Migrant Media and how that inspired Custody?
Urbain: This film inspired the play as I was horrified by the families’ experiences and shocked that no one had been ever convicted. The film was a call to action to do something.
Tell us a bit about the story the pushes the play forward is it emotive for you to watch?
Urban: The story follows the family as they try to uncover what happened to their loved one day just died.