Death of England: Delroy online at the National Theatre
A play opening and closing on the same night is something of a rarity, especially at a venue as prestigious as the National Theatre. But this is not a normal year and it was due to England’s second lockdown that Death of England: Delroy was postponed until spring 2021. Thankfully, the quick-thinking National filmed the production and have made it available to watch for free for just 24 hours.
Rafe Spall received much-deserved praise for his performance in the first of the two Death of England monologues. The focus there was on a white working-class man dealing with the death of his racist father. Here, our attention turns to his friend Delroy, an angry, opinionated bailiff of Jamaican descent, in an arresting performance by Michael Balogun.
As Delroy attempts to reach his girlfriend Carly, who is going into labour with their child, he is arrested and detained. So begins an outpouring of anger, confusion and reflection as Delroy delves into his past to make sense of his present. Identity, racial profiling, white privilege and what it means to be a working-class black British man are just some of the key themes, with references to Covid, lockdown and Brexit allowing the work to feel pertinent and timely.
Balogun was originally in fact the understudy for Giles Terera, who was forced to step down from the production due to ill health, but so strong and vigorous is the former’s performance that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. There are weighty themes compacted into just 90 minutes, but the actor commands our attention throughout and injects an adrenaline shot into an already intense script. Thanks to Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’s strong writing, there is a good balance of light and shade, with the dialogue effortlessly morphing from colloquial to poetic. We are challenged here, but good theatre should start conversations and force us to look at the world through the perspectives of others.
Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey and Ultz’s staging, consisting of a large cross, with the audience seated in the round, is deceptively simple, allowing Delroy to appear exposed and vulnerable. The play also lends itself well to being filmed, with close-ups of Balogun permitting us a more intimate view of his facial expressions and impressive physicality. Lighting design by Jackie Shemesh and sound design by Benjamin Grant and Pete Malkin add further intensity to the production, emphasising key moments without drawing too much attention away from Balogun.
The filmed version will no doubt compel viewers to purchase tickets for the 2021 run – Death of England: Delroy is deserving of the full, in-person experience. Exceptional writing, a remarkable performance and theatre at its most provocative, this is not to be missed.
Photos: Normski Photography
Death of England: Delroy is at the National Theatre from 27th November until 28th November 2020. To view the full production, begin streaming before 5.30pm on 28th November 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a behind the scenes video about the filming of Death of England: Delroy here: