“An electric, transformative experience”: Custody creator Ubain Hayo discusses the power of art as activism
After a successful run at the Ovalhouse in 2017, Urbain Hayo’s Custody – which follows the aftermath of a young black man’s death while in police custody – is back for a tour of the UK.
Ahead of the production’s London shows, we caught up with Hayo to discuss his inspirations, his motives and his hopes for the future when it comes to socio-political issues and his art.
For any of our readers who aren’t familiar with Custody, how would you describe it?
An electric, transformative experience.
As a play with an important socio-political message, what do you hope for it to achieve?
I hope that it achieves empathy from other groups who don’t experience the prejudice portrayed in the play and I hope that highlighting themes of family, love and loss will facilitate a positive conversation about race relations in the UK.
Again, with the real-world inspiration for Custody in mind, was there a specific incident that inspired you to take action in this way?
The death of Mark Duggan and my own experiences of being stopped and searched. The London riots as well.
On the other side of that coin, what were your artistic inspirations?
My main artistic inspiration was Mojisola Adebayo.
What was is about these inspirations that spoke to you?
The real-life experiences made me want to create something truthful and that tied in with Mojisola’s work – creating theatrical experiences to raise awareness of social and political issues within communities and using theatre and storytelling as a form of activism.
Do you think that deaths in police custody get enough attention on this side of the pond?
No. There’s a perception that it’s an American issue. There’s a lack of awareness of it in the UK and a lack of transparency with the public because of the relationship between the press and the police.
Was there something special about this play in particular that made you want to act in it as well?
I just think it’s an honour to be a part of telling stories and a part of this character. It allows me to pay homage to the community.
How did your partnership with writer Tom Wainwright come about?
I was in one of his plays when I first started acting, about the 2008 financial crisis. It was incredibly powerful and what stuck out for me was the way he used family and universal themes to show how these huge political and social issues affect normal people, without needing to use legal jargon and political language.
Have you got any other projects in the works?
Yes. I’ve learnt a lot about putting forward work that can be very difficult and how to portray sensitive subject matter to audiences. I’m going to take this into my next project where I’m looking at exploring themes of masculinity and abuse.
Custody is at Ovalhouse Theatre from 5th until 22nd June 2019. For more information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Custody here: